While I’m the president of the committee you will never get the invalid pension!” Dr Bilanovich was emphatic. His patient Štefica Bratulic (Stefania Bratulich) was devastated to hear those words. Not only was this a terrible personal blow, but it also tested her newly found faith.
Stefania’s faith journey started when her father, before he died, urged all his children to search for the true church that worships on the right day. The Catholic church is not the true church, he told them. They should not be praying to idols and saints and Sunday is not the right day of worship.
Out of nine children, she was the only one who took her dad’s bidding to heart. She found the Seventh-day Adventist church by following a woman who told her not to come (yes, you read that right! NOT to come), and was now fully committed. This was no small feat. The best option for anyone at that time in a country under the communist regime was not to be a believer in God. To change from being a Catholic to a Seventh-day Adventist was not only unwise but dangerous.
Life only got worse after Stefania’s conversion. Her family was against her decision. Her mother and siblings ridiculed her. Her husband protested. He was an alcoholic and instead of supporting the family, he would take stuff away. Her two primary school aged children had problems at school because they were not attending on Sabbath. She now had a third child—another mouth to feed when there was not enough food for the two she already had. But worst of all, her health was seriously deteriorating. Her spine was caving in. She couldn’t work any more and had to find other means to support her family. The only ray of hope was to receive an invalid pension from the government.
Under communism she should have been provided for, but since she was a believer in God, it became a big problem.
This was not the first time she had attempted to get the pension. Each time it was rejected because her doctor would issue a certificate indicating that she was fit to work because of her faith.
One day she found out that Dr Bilanovich needed a house helper, a lady to do domestic duties. She went to see him about it.
“I heard you need a house help. I have someone to recommend to you,” she began.
Dr Bilanovich was excited. “Yes, I do need house help. Who is it that you can recommend to me?”
“I have an excellent recommendation for you. It’s me! I would like to work as your house help. If I get sick at your place, I will have the best person to help me,” she replied.
“You are not fit to work as a house help,” he said disappointed.
“If I am not fit to work at your place, I am not fit to work at any place. Please issue a health certificate to indicate that, so I can get a government invalid pension,” she implored.
“I will not do that.” This was his final answer.
Meanwhile, Stefania learned a few tips from another woman who received the pension, yet was in better health.
Instead of going only to her government-appointed doctor, she went to a private clinic for the same examination on the same day. The private clinic rightly noted that she was not fit to work, the opposite verdict to the government-appointed doctor.
With new evidence in hand, Stefania started proceedings again. But with Dr Bilanovich—who was also the head of the committee granting invalid pensions—vowing he would never approve her application, was there any hope? Would her newfound God help her?
With an appointment date set for meeting the committee, Stefania decided to take a three-day fast and prayer and asked her children and her sister-in-Christ Mitza to join her in prayer.
Weak from her illness and lack of food, she barely made it to the appointment. The members examined her and her documents. The president of the committee, Dr Bilanovich, spoke in her favour. The decision was unanimous. She could receive the invalid pension.
Stefania was delighted with the outcome but was intrigued by Dr Bilanovich’s change of attitude. He had vowed to go against her, but had now spoken in her favour. Why?
She would find out the next day. She had to see Dr Bilanovich again, to collect the documents she would take to the government agency issuing the monthly pension.
“Mrs Bratulich, I don’t know what came over me yesterday. I wanted to speak against you, but I spoke in favour,” he said.
“Did you tell them something that wasn’t true?” she asked.
“Everything I said was true, but I did not want to say it,” he replied.
“So why didn’t you speak what you wanted?”
What he described next was the miracle she’d prayed for. “The night before the committee, I was about to fall asleep when a big, strong, bright man came to my room and tapped me on the shoulder saying ’What about the matter of Mrs Bratulich?’ That startled me. Then he disappeared.
“I relaxed and I was about to fall asleep when he came again, tapped me on the shoulder and asked: ‘What about the matter of Mrs Bratulich?’. Now I was afraid. This happened over and over again through the whole night. I did not have a minute of sleep! I could not endure another night like that, so I had to speak the truth.”
“Doctor! You had the privilege I haven’t had. You saw my angel!” she exclaimed.
Next time Stefania visited her doctor, she brought him a gift—the Bible. Her doctor was delighted. He took the Bible with both hands and pressed it on his chest.
“Mrs Bratulich, you brought the Bible to me?!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm.
Although he never joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he had the Bible and the personal encounter with Stefania’s guardian angel to lead him for the rest of his life.
The pension Stefania received for the rest of her life transformed the financial situation of the family. It was regular funds she could count on and through prudent management, she even gave money to others to help them. Stefania continued to serve God her whole life, witnessing to many through the literature that she could now buy—but even more so with her life. The communist government fell, but her church still stands and her God still answers prayers.
One of her children praying for this miracle was Marija Ðidara. She is a committed Seventh-day Adventist. Together with her husband Marko they raised five children who are all committed Seventh-day Adventists.
The third child who was born to her is Danijela Schubert (the author of this piece). Her mum paid for her tuition to complete Bible College. She has since completed two masters degrees as well as a doctorate, raised two sons, and together with her husband worked as a missionary in Pakistan and in Papua New Guinea as a lecturer in the school of theology, then as South Pacific Division associate secretary. She currently holds the role of Women’s Ministry director for the South Pacific Division. This story took place in the 1960s in former Yugoslavia.