It all started with a book…Curled up in my little corner of the sofa one afternoon in the mid-1970s reading Hidden Rainbow, I cried for Anna. Anna was a young Yugoslavian girl, married at seventeen and struggling with life in pre-World War I Croatia.
I was profoundly impacted by this biography. I connected deeply with Anna: a young woman longing for a better life, free from traditions that bound her, and free from the fear that engulfed life around her.
A forbidden New Testament lay beneath her mattress. She didn’t understand most of the words and had no one to explain the stories. I longed to befriend this young woman, to explain the words of the New Testament to her, to share the stories with her, and to watch understanding come into her eyes.
Twenty-five years later, I lived in Minnesota with my husband, David and our three daughters. Through a series of events orchestrated by God, David and I became involved in a ministry reaching out to a small congregation in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia.
David had been to Prekmurje several times. One time the team wanted a woman to go explore an ongoing ministry to women in that church. I was the logical person to accompany David. We were in Prekmurje for only one long weekend to train a core group of men and women in basic ministry skills.
However, I felt especially drawn to my translator, Natalija. Just the year before, she had decided to follow Christ as she wrote a paper on the Song of Solomon for her philosophy class.
At our team’s last dinner in Slovenia, I sat across from Natalija. We talked and I asked for her email address. Over the next months, we developed our friendship through email. She slowly began to open her heart to me. We discussed books, talking about important things to us and to God. More trips to Slovenia deepened our friendship.
My friendship with Maggie (Margo) started in 2001 when I was a believer for one year. I had many questions about God, life, myself, and relationships. I had no one to answer them that would bring relief and freedom. Therefore, I prayed to God for help – for a better understanding of the truth that would set me free as promised in his Word.
When I saw Maggie for the first time as her translator, I sensed her peace and freedom that I longed for. Deciding to open up to her, I told her how I really felt. Maggie led me with a patience and love I had never experienced before through our email correspondence.
Maggie helped me find lies I was believing and taught me how to replace them with truth. She pointed me toward God. With her walking beside me, I began to examine my heart and deal with very painful things.
My perception of God and who I am in Him changed with her help and support. God’s promise of freeing truth was becoming my truth! I now know a loving and faithful God and experience His love toward me as His child!
Throughout the years our friendship has grown tremendously. Maggie’s safe and true friendship impacted my life in ways no other person has. As she taught me how to walk with God, she also loved me with her Christ-like heart faithfully and unconditionally.
Because of Maggie and our amazing God, I enjoy life with my dear husband, precious daughter and son. Without her, my fears would have prevented me from discovering God’s special blessings for me.
God’s Precious Gift
On my third trip to Slovenia, I sat in Natalija’s car as we said our goodbyes. Unexpectedly, I heard God’s still, small voice: “Maggie, this is your Anna. I didn’t forget the longing of your heart.”
My Anna? Of course! Sitting next to me was a young Slovenian girl like Anna, who longed for a better life, free from traditions that bound her, and free from the fear that engulfed life around her!
The real-life Natalija is the Anna from the Hidden Rainbow story I wanted to befriend so many years ago. In fact, Natalija’s home in Prekmurje was just 150 kilometers from where Anna had lived.
It’s been many years since Natalija and I first met. I’m so thankful for our rich, deep, cross-cultural friendship. I’m amazed at how Natalija takes every opportunity to share her faith and offers to pray for people. Many have been impacted by her story of what God has done for her.
By Margo Neibling
Margo is the Women’s Coordinator for the Transformational Leadership Movement, which provides leadership training for pastors and leaders throughout the world.