Out of the pit

From left: Josip Joza, Michael Miso and Ivan John Ivica.

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“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” the interviewer said. “You’ll have to change your habits if you want to get a job.”

Mihaljo Kavur (or Miso to his family and friends) was 22 years old and was a qualified motor mechanic. But because the Communist Regime in Yugoslavia dictated compulsory military service, this was his first time looking for work since completing his motor mechanic apprenticeship. The only problem was that the working week went from Monday to Saturday.

Miso tried explaining that he was willing to work on Sunday instead of Saturday or to have one day’s less pay, but it made no difference. Miso thanked the interviewer and started to look for another opportunity.

A different company interviewed him, but the same thing happened when Miso asked to have Sabbaths off work. After four rejections, Miso was getting desperate and frustrated; he was qualified to do these jobs well. He started to reason within himself, Perhaps if I just showed them my skills, then maybe they would keep me.

Then there was a position advertised for an army mechanic, fixing diesel pumps at a gravel pit. This time he didn’t tell them about the Sabbath during the interview and he was hired on the spot. The system of work was fortnightly and he was fortunate to start on a Sunday. During the week he worked hard, fixing the diesel pumps and replacing them on different excavators in the gravel pits.

This is how he tells the story:

When the first Sabbath came, I took the day off and went to church. No-one mentioned my absence when I came in to work the next day, so I went on with fixing the diesel pumps. I was now in my second week there, with no problems so far.

That day, I was sitting on a small chair near an excavator, fixing a pump, when I noticed a group of soldiers cheering and shouting. I couldn’t see what they were shouting about and curiosity got the better of me. I went to see what they were doing. As I approached them, I saw that they had thrown a young soldier into a gravel pit, stripped to his waist. The pit contained water, which came up to the man’s stomach, and I knew that it must be icy cold because the water in the pits comes from deep underground. The soldiers were taunting and shouting at the man in the pit, and they didn’t notice me as I watched what they were doing.

I was hit hard by what I was witnessing. I recognised the officer in command and tapped him on his shoulder. Filled with indignation, I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You ought to be ashamed to treat a soldier that way. How dare you treat him so brutally—jeering at him and mocking him! His mother cared for him and brought him up to be a man, and you’re treating him as if he weren’t human.”

Turning to the rest of the soldiers, I told them that they should be ashamed too. As I watched, they hung their heads and began retrieving him from the pit. It was an amazing thing that somehow my words had authority over the mob of soldiers, and even the officer. I was a civilian, in civilian’s clothes, and they were members of the army. I could have been tortured myself or lost my job on the spot, but I believe that the Holy Spirit convicted them as I spoke.

Kavurs on a boat to Australia.

Many years later, on the other side of the world—in Brisbane, Australia—Miso found the man, Vlado Jakovac, who was pulled out of the pit. He was telling the story at a table at his niece’s wedding, when a man on the other side of the table suddenly stood up and exclaimed, “I’m that soldier! I was the one in that gravel pit.” Remarkably, Miso’s brother had married Vlado’s sister, and they had never realised the connection before. They hugged each other as brothers would. It was a special moment for both of them.

Vlado’s story also had a Sabbath twist. This is how he explained it:

A few weeks before Miso saw me in that gravel pit, I had decided that I would stand firm and not do any work on the Sabbath, even if I was ordered to. It was a serious thing for a soldier to disobey orders. The officers started to lock me up in the army prison each Sabbath when I refused to work, but I was glad to be alone, to dwell on the Bible and its promises and to pray to God. That part was okay, but the army unit also subjected me to some harsh, humiliating treatment—like the incident in the gravel pit.

In that freezing cold gravel pit, I could hardly bear the mockery from my comrades as they shouted at me, “Where is your God now?” It was the mockery that hurt me the most. So, I prayed to Jesus, “Please, if it be Your will, save me from this torture.” That’s when I saw Miso standing among the soldiers.

I listened when Miso spoke to them and I knew he was sent by God—he was an answer to my prayer. Then they pulled me out of that cold pit. Afterwards, all of them came and secretly apologised, one by one. They told me that the sergeant had asked them to torture me.

What could I do but forgive them? They didn’t understand the mercy of Jesus and His great unconditional love toward us all.

Things in the army improved somewhat for Vlado, but Miso’s army mechanic employers soon noticed his Sabbath-keeping. His skill and dedication as a mechanic was not enough to save him from losing his job, but when Miso walked away from the gravel pits, he left having shaken those soldiers to the conviction of their shared humanity and having strengthened the faith of a brother in Christ.

Like Miso, we may not know the impact of our actions for many years—or perhaps until Jesus comes again—but his story shows us that when we defend the abused, when we recognise that we are all children of one Creator, there will one day be embracing and joy.

Adapted from Far Away from Home—the true story of Lakeside Seventh-day Adventist Church (NSW) member Josip Kavur and his family—by Josip Kavur and Clive Nash. Adventists like Miso (Josip’s brother) and Vlado were discriminated against and persecuted under the Communist regime in Yugoslavia following World War II. Their experiences in the army, in trying to make a living and while escaping to a life of freedom demonstrate God’s faithfulness in ways that will inspire your own faith.

Far Away from Home is available from Adventist bookstores and online at adventistbookcentre.com.au.

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