Dejan Stevanovic
Dejan Stevanovic

My path from criminal to pastor

I originally come from Vukovar in Croatia. My parents fled to Austria with my younger brother and me in 1991 after the outbreak of the war between Croats and Serbs. I was 10 years old at the time. As happy as we were to have escaped the terrible war, it was difficult to start a new life in a foreign country with an unknown language. My father was looking for work and away a lot, my mother was traumatised by the war, so we children were largely on our own. At school, as a refugee child, I was a foreigner. In the early days, I was barely able to communicate with the others. I felt very alone and abandoned.

Since I had been baptised a Protestant, I had to leave my class before my first religion lesson and look for the class where my religion lessons were to take place. I was a little late, the lesson had already started and I had to enter the strange class a little agitated. When the religion teacher saw me, she spread her arms, hugged me and said, "It's good that you're here!" Such a warm welcome was so incredibly beautiful for me then in a foreign country that I will never forget it. I learned in the course of time that her warmth was due to the fact that she lived from her faith and tried to put the call to love her neighbour into practice in everything she did.

My religion teacher spent a lot of time with me, she helped me to learn the German language and above all, she brought me closer to my faith in God. I then regularly cycled to the services that her husband held as a Protestant pastor. I felt that they both lived what they believed in. My parents, however, had become increasingly critical of my lifes direction; they thought that what I was doing was crazy.          

After finishing secondary school, I wanted to become a pastor. But my parents were strictly against it. My father arranged for me to start training in computer technology, for which I had to move to a city and boarding school. Actually, I didn't want to do this training, I had only started it because of my father. I was now far away from home and also far away from the environment of my religion teacher who had influenced me so positively. Basically, I was again left to my own devices in this difficult situation.

I came into contact with esoteric literature. I was particularly interested in everything that had to do with the occult, which exerted a very special fascination on me. The curiosity and the thrill of trying out what would happen made me even hold a "black mass" in my boarding school. This included calling up spirits. I wanted to try this out, to see if it would work. I invited friends to join me. When ghosts actually appeared, it was so scary for my friends that they all left the room and I was suddenly alone. But this experience didn't scare me at all. In fact I wanted to see what was possible with occultism.

After my friends had abandoned me in these occult experiments, I looked for like-minded people in the city with whom I could continue. But I didn't find anyone, instead I came into contact with alcohol and drugs.

Soon after, I had to leave school because I had failed two-thirds of my subjects and also had 170 absences. My father then arranged for me to do an apprenticeship as a machinist.

This attempt to follow a proper career path was unsuccessful. I had no desire to work and only wanted to earn money as quickly as possible. So I didn't complete this apprenticeship either and I  became a criminal. Wrong choices and my personal lack of prospects drew me more and more into a haze of violence and crime. Several criminal records  followed and I was soon the boss of a clique of about 40 people in the drug scene.

One day at a party I met a girl I liked, I wanted to make a pass at her. Another member of the clique also liked this girl. I noticed this and an argument ensued. I made it clear to him, as the boss of the clique, that he would get into trouble with me if he did not leave the party immediately. He left straight away . The next day I found out that this friend was dead. He had died that night from an overdose of drugs.

At his funeral, his mother was deeply distraught. When she saw me, she came up to me, grabbed me and asked: "Why? Why did he die, what happened???"

This confrontation shocked me. I knew what had happened the day before. Suddenly I also realised what kind of life I had gotten myself into over the last few years. I suddenly realised that my life could not go on like this and that it would probably end traumatically as well. I felt that I would need help to get out of it. The first thing that came to my mind was that I should go to church again. I was suddenly drawn back to the parish of my childhood.

But I didn't want to meet my religion teacher or the pastor; they would have been deeply disappointed if, seven years after my last contact, they suddenly saw me as a tattooed, drug- and alcohol-addicted problem case with a criminal record. So I sat down at the back of the pew, but left the church just before the service was over so as not to be approached by anyone, especially the pastor.

Afterwards, as I sat in the car, I really became aware of my entire messed-up life. I was in deep despair. All I could say was: "God, I believe that even you can't help me in my situation".

But God did help me, and much more quickly than I could have imagined.

The next day, a friend wanted to meet me, we sat down at a bus stop around 8 o'clock with several bottles of beer, when suddenly I heard the voice of my former religion teacher: "Dejan, is that you? Isn't it a bit early to be drinking?" I was incredibly embarrassed. I hadn't seen her for so long and now she was seeing me in this situation. I therefore answered evasively and lied to her. As she had a time crunch, she had to quickly move on, but, before she did so, she invited me to visit her house.        

I wanted to leave then because I thought that my religion teacher would surely be back soon. Under no circumstances did I want to be seen by her again. So, together with my buddy and our beer, I retreated behind the station, where young people usually like to hide when they want to smoke secretly without being discovered. So we sat there more or less hidden together, drinking and smoking, when suddenly I heard again the very surprised voice of my religion teacher: "Dejan, you smoke?!?" I felt caught and stammered evasively. This time she also said that she had no time to stop as she had to go home quickly, but that I should definitely visit her.

I got creeped out and we decided to go to my friend's flat to continue drinking. We then spent the whole day together.

In the evening, I wanted to drive home in my car and only stopped quickly at a supermarket on the way to buy something to eat. When I got out, a few apples rolled towards me. I collected these apples and looked for the person who had lost them. When I turned around, I saw my religion teacher who had torn a bag full of apples. We both looked at each other in surprise and she asked what I was doing there. When I told her that I wanted to buy something to eat, she insisted that I           come to her house for dinner instead. She urged me to go ahead as I knew my way around her house. She just had to do some quick shopping and would come home straight afterwards.

So I drove to her house and thought frantically about what lies I could tell to get out of it, because I didn't want to tell her what I was really like and what I had been up to all of these years. I sat down in the kitchen and waited.

When she came home, she immediately called loudly for her husband at the front door: "Siegfried, come out, you won't believe who I've found - the prodigal son has come home again!" Her husband also came up to the kitchen and when he saw me, he shouted with joy: "Dejan, if you only knew how long we prayed for you! If you only knew how often we thought of you and wondered how you were doing, what had become of you!" I stood there completely affected and didn't know what to say. But before hearing anything about my life, he wanted to pray with us and thank God that I had reappeared.

This prayer opened all the floodgates for me and all I could do was cry. Finally I was able to tell them everything, everything I had done, my whole messed up life.

The evening ended with Siegfried inviting me to give my whole life to Jesus. Then, before I went back to my place, I said a prayer surrendering my life. I asked Jesus to come into my life and help me with my situation.

Finally, I drove home, but I could not fall asleep. Habitually, I rolled a joint of marijuana, something I had always done when I couldn't sleep. But this time a sudden reluctance rose up in me, I took the entire supply of marijuana I possessed and flushed it down the toilet. After that I began to clear out all the posters and all the books and papers that I suddenly felt were crap. Only then did I have an inner peace and could sleep.

Within a short time God helped me to turn my life around. I realised that Jesus holds my life in his hands and I started to follow him. I then increasingly found my inner peace in him and in his work of redemption. From this inner peace, I now sought peace and reconciliation with my past and with my family. I was particularly deeply touched by my reconciliation with my father, whom I had not seen for some years. He still did not understand my path, but it fascinated him that faith in Jesus had changed my life so much.

Now I am an evangelical pastor and it is my concern to convey to people the love of God that I was allowed to experience myself. I was able to experience that God listens to our prayers. My religion teacher and her husband faithfully prayed for me. I want to imitate them so that blessings can flow for others.