Discipleship Explored: Meet Simo
The new Discipleship Explored features brand-new documentary-style films and inspiring real-life stories from around the world. We thought we'd introduce you to some of the people in front of the cameras.
This is Simo's story.
Simo Ralevic was born on the border of Montenegro and Kosovo, in a remote area in the mountains above Pec, near the Albanian border. His family were poor, and he was one of 11 children.
To Italy and back again
As he grew up, he became increasingly dissatisfied with his life. He felt there was something missing. So he decided to try and escape through the Iron Curtain to the West.
He reached the Yugoslav-Italian border but was dismayed to find that it was both heavily guarded and strongly fortified. He was about to give up when there was a tremendous rainstorm and all the guards went to seek shelter. Simo noticed a small gap under the fence and managed to crawl under the wire to reach Italy.
Simo was interred in a refugee camp in southern Italy, where he studied Italian and English but became increasingly disillusioned and decided it had been a mistake to leave his home and family. He broke out of the camp and went to Rome where he found the Yugoslavian embassy who sent him back home.
But on his return he was treated with great suspicion, because the manner of his leaving in the first place was a crime. He was sent to prison where he was severely beaten.
He was in a dark, damp and cold cell, just large enough for one person, with nothing to eat, wearing only a thin shirt and trousers.
One night he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus who spoke to him and said "Simo! Tear down your house and build a new one."
This was repeated twice and greatly puzzled Simo. He could not understand what it meant. Should he go home and demolish his family's farm house?
Building a new house
As time went by he thought more and more about the vision. Eventually he was released from prison and sent off to do his military service.
Simo prayed "Oh God, some people say you exist, others say you don't. If you do exist please send me someone to tell me what the vision means".
Shortly after praying this Simo found himself in a military barracks. One of the young soldiers in his room struck Simo as a very different to the other soldiers, a man of kindness and sincerity. Could he be the one that Simo should confide in about his vision?
He asked the man what he did and discovered that he was a theological student. So Simo described his vision to the man, who then asked him if he believed in God.
"Yes, I think so" said Simo.
"Well, how do you express it?" asked the man.
"I light candles" replied Simo.
"That's not enough", came the reply.
The man said that the meaning of Simo's vision could be explained by reading John:3 in the Bible which says that you must become a new person, you must be born again.
And he was!
Sharing the Gospel in Pec and beyond
Simo felt the Lord was calling him to return to Pec and tell the people there the good news of the Gospel.
He began to preach and people asked him for copies of his sermons! So Simo began publishing Christian literature, using a machine given to him by English Christians.
He both translated books and began to write his own (the fruits of his preaching helped by his wide reading). Some of his books were aimed at building up Christians, while others were evangelistic.
Simo and his wife used to cycle round the region, leaving evangelistic tracts at cross roads and even in the mouths of caves used by smugglers to evade the Albanian-Yugoslav border guards.
As the good news about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins was spread throughout the area of Pec and the surrounding region, it was not long before opposition arose.
The communist authorities started to persecute Simo, firstly through threats and eventually by putting him in jail on several occasions.
Whilst he was there, his wife was very ill: she had struggled with her health for many years. One of Simo's fellow prisoners asked the prison governor to let him out for a few hours to see his wife. This request was refused, but when the prisoner told the governor that if he wouldn't do this, the man would kill him on his release from prison, the request was abruptly granted!
Simo ran at night through the back streets of Pec to his church, which as now was part of his house, just as the brothers and sisters were praying for his release. They were amazed to see him!
When imprisonment didn't work, the Communist authorities eventually decided to convene a conference to agree a strategy to shut him up. Strangely, one of the people invited was one of Simo's brothers, Drago. He was a Communist party member and wasn't a Christian, though would often listen in to Bible studies held at the house.
Unsurprisingly, Drago found the conference's goal not in line with his family loyalty and said so. The leader of the meeting said "What! You are not one of these Christians as well are you?" At which Drago stood up, threw his Communist party card on the table and left saying that he had decided to become a Christian.
Opposition also came from other sources.
At a family funeral many people came, some of them determined to assault Simo, armed with shovels and pick axes.
By the time they arrived, Simo was preaching at the side of the open grave. Around him were his family, and nearby some empty open graves ready for the next burials. Simo's brother Milko is very strong. He stood in the narrow path between the graves and as the three or four angry men rushed forward he firmly shoved them back, they fell on top of each other like a set of dominoes, some slipping into the freshly dug graves. So Simo was preserved unscathed.
Fleeing the war
In 1999 the war in Kosovo spread to Pec and Simo and his family had to flee because they were not Albanian.
Fortunately, his friendly Albanian neighbours, though they were Moslem or atheists, highly respected him and protected his property. Today the house and church are used by Albanian evangelicals.
It is amazing that in both Albania and Kosovo there are now many evangelical churches - 40 in Kosovo alone where there were only one or two before.
Keeping the post office in business
Simo now lives in central Serbia. Sadly his wife went to be with the Lord several years ago.
Over the last 50 years many thousands of books written or translated by Simo have been printed and distributed to many people all over the world, from the former Yugoslavia to as far away as Australia.
Even to this day there is a massive warehouse under Simo's house, piled high with thousands of books and evangelistic literature. These books are sent out daily and Simo is one of the biggest customers of the local Post Office!
More of Simo’s story features in the Discipleship Explored, a journey through the book of Philippians, which is available to order from The Good Book Company
This content first appeared on Jeremy Marshall's blog