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Former student remembers
Ambassador University student underground

By John Robinson

VIAREGGIO, Italy--A Serbian former Ambassador University student who recently spent a year in El Salvador cautions members of the United Church of God and other groups against the twin evils of central control and isolation.

"Doctrinally, we're fine," said Aleksandar "Sasha" Veljic, who attended the UCG Feast site here Sept. 27 to Oct. 5. "But, to be honest with you, I am concerned with United's attempts to exercise undue control over the ministry and the membership."

Along with decentralizing, however, he doesn't want the brethren to lose sight of the rest of the world.

"There are congregations in the United States that want local autonomy, which is fine," he said. "But a danger is that those in the United States may forget about the rest of the world."

Passionate for God's law

Mr. Veljic recently returned to his home, the former Yugoslavia, after spending a year in El Salvador.

The 25-year-old Belgrade native remains as passionate about his beliefs about the law of God as he did in the spring of 1995 when he found himself at Ambassador University during the time the Worldwide Church of God, the chief sponsor of AU, was making massive doctrinal changes.

In its second issue (May 26, 1995), In Transition ran Mr. Veljic's account of Sabbath-keepers in Ukraine and the hardships they endure to keep the faith. Mr. Veljic had been part of the pioneer group, then sponsored by the Ambassador Foundation, that taught English fellow Sabbatarians in Ukraine in July and August 1994.

He originally wrote his article as a project for an AU English class. The assignment was to write an article for The Plain Truth magazine.

"At the time I conceived the article, I was convinced it would be sent to the magazine," Mr. Veljic explained.

But subsequent events in the WCG led him to conclude the church was no longer interested in pointing to examples of Sabbath-keepers.

Mr. Veljic said he found the doctrinal changes shocking--especially the speed of the changes.

Before enrolling at AU he had learned of the WCG through an aunt he was visiting in England. He was baptized in March 1992 by two ministers based in England.

"As they were counseling me for baptism," Mr. Veljic said, "they dwelled on counting the costs. They asked me if I was willing to die for my beliefs.

"Both of these men have now rejected the truths they asked me if I was willing to die for. One of them in a recent letter wrote that his former beliefs were in error."

When did Mr. Veljic first sense concern about the WCG doctrinal shift?

"Actually, I was slow to catch on. It wasn't until February 1995 that I began to question what was going on. I was a new Christian, so they were able to take advantage of me."

Student underground

But, once Mr. Veljic picked up on the magnitude of the doctrinal changes, he and friends went underground at AU to circulate information that would support the Sabbath and other basic doctrines the WCG was rapidly altering.

Mr. Veljic and friends would photocopy and distribute articles written by Seventh-day Adventist scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi, Herbert W. Armstrong and others to distribute to their fellow students to refute the new WCG teachings.

"We spent a lot of money buying key cards to put in the AU photocopiers in order to duplicate the articles. One Sunday I remember another student and I, both of us who had grown up in communist states, sneaked into one of the buildings to make copies.

"He looked at me and said, `Does this remind you of communism?' That's how we felt as students that semester if we didn't go along with the changes."

After leaving AU, Mr. Veljic traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador, where he spent a year learning Spanish and sharing his story with brethren in Central America. Mr. Veljic speaks his native Serbian, Russian, English and Spanish and is hard at work on Italian.

"I wished I'd studied a bit of Italian before coming here for the Feast this year," he said. "But, don't worry, I'll be fluent in Italian by the Feast next year."

Progress of the UCG

What does Mr. Veljic think about the current state of the United Church of God, of which he is a member?

He says he is satisfied with the progress made by the UCG over the past year.

"From a doctrinal viewpoint, we're fine. But, I and many others are concerned that there is an attitude in the UCG that ministers have more of the Holy Spirit than do the other members. Members are asked what they think about things, but many are afraid to express their opinions.

"I have friends all over the world, so I think I have a good feel for what is going on in many areas.

"I have also been dismayed to learn recently that there are UCG leaders who would like to see In Transition go away."

But Mr. Veljic said that, although he is concerned about too much central control, he also worries that church members may forget the needs of their brethren worldwide.

"We--all of us around the world--are one family. As part of that family Americans don't know how much they're blessed. I live very modestly in Belgrade. I've lived in the third world. In Central America, where I was for a year, the daily diet for many is eggs, beans and tortillas.

"I visited one of the brethren and noted that the refrigerator was unplugged. It was used to store dishes.

"It's fine to want to build local-church buildings in the United States, but we have to remember that there are other needs as well."

Looking to the future

Mr. Veljic lives with his parents in Belgrade. He is looking for full-time employment, but in his spare time he wants to "get the truth out" in his native land.

"I've translated some things into Serbian, and Croatian is very similar. I feel a passion to get the truth out. There are 15 to 20 million living in the former Yugoslavia. The gospel hasn't gone out in my native language.

"Some have told me the work is finished; it's been done. But I don't believe it. I believe God's greatest still work lies ahead."

Mr. Veljic said he has a "zeal to translate," but he isn't interested in being a leader. "I have no ministerial aspirations," he said.

His current goal is to obtain a personal computer and printer he can use to translate and print literature and an Internet hookup to let him to stay in touch with brethren in other parts of the world.


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