“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. Her health was seriously deteriorating. Her spine was caving in. She couldn’t work anymore and had to find other means to support her family. Stefania’s only ray of hope was to receive an invalid pension from the government.
Not only was this a terrible personal blow, but it also tested her newly found faith.
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 ironically told her not to come to church and she was now fully committed. This was no small feat. The best option under the communist regime was to be someone who didn’t believe in a Protestant understanding of God. To become a Seventh-day Adventist was not only unwise but dangerous in traditional Catholic/Communist Yugoslavia at the time. Religion and religious belief that strayed from the norm was dangerous to share outside of one’s private life.
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 children had problems at primary school because they were not attending on Saturday. She now had a third child—another mouth to feed when there was not enough food for the two she already had.
Under communism she should have been provided for, but since becoming a believer in God, it had been a big problem. Each time her pension was rejected because her doctor would issue a certificate indicating that she was fit to work—all because of her faith. But she kept trying. For a long time, things were the same.
One day Stefania found out that Dr Bilanovich needed 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. 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, so I can get a government invalid pension,” she implored. For a short time it looked like she might finally get a pension.
“I will not do that.” This was his final answer.
Meanwhile, Stefania learned a few tips from another woman who already 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 of the government-appointed doctor.
With new evidence in hand, Stefania started proceedings again. But Dr Bilanovich—who was also the head of the committee granting invalid pensions—had vowed he would never approve her application. Was there any hope? Would her new-found God help her?
With an appointment date set for meeting the committee, Stefania Stefania committed to three days of fasting and prayer and asked her children and her good friend 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 surprised by Dr Bilanovich’s change of attitude. He had vowed to go against her but now spoke 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 say 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, asking ‘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 have had a privilege I have never had. You saw my angel!” she exclaimed.
Next time Stefania visited her doctor, she brought him a gift—the Bible. Dr Bilanovich 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.
Although he never joined the Church, he had the Bible and a personal encounter with Stefania’s guardian angel to lead him for the rest of his life.
The pension Stefania received transformed the financial situation of her family. It meant 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 by the way she lived. The communist government fell, but her church and the hard work they have done still stands and her God still answers prayers.
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Danijela Schubert (the author of this piece) is the third child born to Stefania mentioned above. 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 worked as a missionary. lecturer, associate secretary and women’s ministry director. This story took place in the 1960s in former Yugoslavia.