Gamosh, John (Ivo), (b. 24 March 1930, Valpovo, Croatia - ); Pentecostal pastor and church planter among Slavic peoples in Australia.
John (Ivo) Gamosh was born on 24 March 1930, in the small village of Valpovo, Osijek, in what is now the Republic of Croatia (the former Republic of Yugoslavia). Of Hungarian background, he grew up in strongly Catholic family. John was one of the youngest children in his family. He spent his childhood in Valpovo and when he was 17 years old (c. 1946) moving to Osijek with his parents.
During the Second World War, in his home country, John had opportunity to meet some born again Christians (his sister's friends) and he heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pentecostalism had percolated into Croatia through revival among evangelical missions and German pietists, and by the diaspora of Armenians, Serbs and other Pentecostal groups fleeing persecution by the Orthodox Church in Slavic areas. It gained form and impetus from the activities of returnees of the Balkan diaspora in the United States – such as the Hungarian Ernest Mihok and his Slovenian wife, Mary, who in 1933 returned from Calvary Assembly of God in Milwaukee, WI, to work in Slovenia and Hungary. (The Mihoks founded the churches in Vescica, Sulinci and Nuskova, out of which came the Kusmic family, one of whom (Peter) later went on to lead the AOG affiliated in Croatia). By 1932, Donald Gee estimated that there were about 30 assemblies in Yugoslavia, a growth rate which indicated the difficulties facing Pentecostal growth in this area when compared, for example, to Hungary and Romania. According to Gamosh, "In that time was very difficult to have a Bible, because it was prohibited by Catholic Church. " He remembers that his mother read the Bible secretly and "three women and one man met each other in a secret place to read and study Scripture. " Due to his Catholicism, Gamosh mocked Christians when he saw how they read the Bible. To leave the Catholic faith was considered a disaster, and John was convicted that he would go to hell if he left the Catholic church.
However, John liked music and he sang choruses from old song books in Croatian language. He remembered that a youth group from Osijek came to his village - they played guitars and he learned to play as well. John had been invited many times to the church's meetings and finally he made the decision to visit a service. John regularly attended divine service in the Catholic Church in Sunday morning, and "The services were in the Latin language. " Once, after the service in Catholic Church, he went to his sister's home where he found a group of born again Christians gathering together. It was the winter of 1943. He says, "I observed how these young people played the guitar and I remember the sermon. It was about the vineyard. But, I did not memorise any single word from sermon. " To the best of his memory, Gamosh continued to mock believers especially when he saw how they prayed and cried out before God. The same day he came again to the afternoon service in his sister's house. He says, "The same afternoon gendarmerie dropped into the house and I was scared for my life - I ran away from them. " From that time he regularly attended home meetings in his sister's house. He remembers that (unlike the scenario in the Book of Acts) prayers were quiet and secret. Gamosh converted during 1943, and was baptised in water on 15 August 1945. After water baptism, during a prayer meeting, he was baptised in the Holy Spirit: "It was a strange and wonderful experience. " Gamosh recollects, "My most beautiful times with God I experienced in His presence at my home. "
The Communist settlement after the Second World War brought problems for religious people of all kinds. The close association of the Catholic Church with pre-war nationalist (and monarchist) movements in Croatia brought the church under suspicion from Tito’s Communist regime, which needed to stamp out local self-determination in order to bring Yugloslavia into a single state. In addition, all religious consciousness was considered ‘false consciousness’ by communist theoreticians, while any gathering was considered politically dangerous. Up until the collapse of communism in the 1980s, I. R. Hall (2002, 94) makes the assessment that the Christ Pentecostal Church (Kristova Pentekostna Crkva) was among those which was ‘barely able to keep themselves in existence.’ John Gamosh was one of those who passed through persecution because of his faith in Jesus Christ. First, he was persecuted from his parents who were Catholics. Second, he experienced persecution from the Communist party. He recollects, "After the Second World War, the Communist party closed the Pentecostal Church in Osijek, so believers did not have a place for meetings. " Further, pentecostalism had spread earliest among pietist German Lutherans, and Germans of any kind were subject to widespread anti-Nazi reaction from Yugoslav communist/nationalists. According to Gamosh, "During the war the leaders of Pentecostal church were Germans, and after war they had to leave Croatia. " It was during this period that his family moved from his village Valpovo to Osijek, and he became a member of the Pentecostal church there. He remembers that "Church’s building was revoked by the Communists. The church name was changed from 'Spiritual church' (Duhovna crkva) to 'Christ spiritual Church' (Hristova Duhovna Crkva). " In addition, he says "In 1949 I travelled to Zagreb to apply for permission so that the Church could be registered and recognised before Government. In that period, officially there was religious freedom, but Communist tried to find a way how to stop religious rights. " Gamosh recollects what happened among believers during these years. "In that time there appeared three groups of Christians. One group believed in the New Testament model of water baptism, the second group denied the Biblical model of water baptism, and believed in infant baptism, and the third group believed and practiced foot washing. " After the war, he remembers that some pastors, leaders from different denominations organized themselves in order to advance their rights before the Government.
In 1953 Gamosh returned from his prescribed period in the Army, and he continued to work with music and worship in the Osijek Church. He formed a big orchestra and choir. In that period he met his wife Bariea, and they married in August 1953 - he was 23 years old. From the beginning of their marriage, young couple faced problems. John's parents did not accept the marriage, because she was not a Catholic. John and Barica struggled for every day living, and found it difficult to find a place to live. John says, "In that time it was very difficult to find a house or flat to live in if you were not a member of the Communist party. " First, they got a small room from her parents, but it was temporary. John was employed in a company as a professional car driver. However, God helped them to find a flat and they moved into the new place, just as he found that his wife was pregnant with their first child. They lived under the very hard circumstances. The secret police persecuted them because of their faith in Jesus. Therefore, they had to change their place of abode and they came back to Barica's parent's house. By this time, they had two children, and it was concern over these circumstances which moved John to think about leaving Yugoslavia, and the possibilities of going to Australia.
Preparations for Australia
In 1955 John found out about going to Australia from some Christians and from the radio station 'Voice of America'. He says, "In that time everyone who tried to illegally cross the border was arrested. " He asked among his friends how to make the attempt. First, he sent his wife across the border to Italy, and himself made three unsuccessful attempts to escape. The secret police followed him and in 1956 he got information that they were preparing to arrest him. He, his children and a friend from church caught a train to Zagreb, but missed their intended bus on arrival. John and his friend then caught a taxi - the driver took them to a place near the border. When they arrived the taxi driver disappeared, and suddenly two police officers appeared. They asked John some questions, but for some reason then left them alone. John, his children and his friend started to run trough the corn fields, through the bush and marshes, and passed a river. It was at night and in the dark. John recollects, "Then, we had to pass a road. That road led us to the border. I was scared. I thought they would arrest me. " They managed to cross the a road successfully, fleeing over a number of hills. Finally, not having slept for nearly four days - hungry, tired, dirty and torn - they came to Trieste in Italy.
There, they attempted to catch the bus, but the Italian police stopped the bus and took them to the police station. After examination, the police issued documents which helped him to claim political asylum. The next day, he was examined again and he granted asylum. After some searching, he found his wife in an immigrants’ camp. Finally, the whole family were together. The Gamosh family, along with other immigrants, were sent to Cremona by train, where they lived for a year, until August 1957, when they migrated to Australia.
Arrival, life, and ministry in Australia
Gamosh and his family arrived by ship in Australia, Sydney, on 7 September 1957 after a long and very difficult trip. He was very surprised when he arrived to the new country and experienced the freedom in Australia. John was very happy when he realized that he had opportunity to work and save money to buy a new house.
When he arrived, he wanted to find the church. He recollects "First weekend after we arrived to Australia, we tried to find Christian church. " Because, he didn't yet speak any English, some Australian Christians from the Apostolic church, referred him to the Russian-Ukrainian AOG in Lidcombe. John Gamosh with his family attended this church for the next few years. As the number of Yugoslav believers grew, they separated from the Russian Church and started the services in the Gamosh house in their native language. When the number of believers grew up to 25-30, they moved first to Rockdale (for only three services), and after that to the Assemblies of God church in Petersham. Gamosh had met Philip Duncan, the founder of Petersham AOG, who suggested to him that they use the church facilities to hold meetings in their language. This was the middle of the 1960's. When the number of believers grew up to 60, Yugoslav Christians bought the building in Croydon Park and started with the services in 1972/ 73. John Gamosh thus became the first pastor in of the Slavic AOG church in Croydon Park, but his tenure lasted only a few months. As the church was being formed, he heard from John Woodham (pastor Duncan's son in law) that in Queanbeyan there were hundreds of Yugoslav people. In June 1973, Gamosh and his family moved to Queanbeyan, where he supported himself with various labouring and low-skilled jobs as he built up the congregation there. He remembers that “Ilija Preceski was the first who converted in 1973 in Queanbeyan. " Gamosh went from house to house and shared the Gospel to Yugoslav people. Soon, they started services in his house, eventually buying a building and establishing a church. Gamosh pastored in Queanbeyan for 28 years, (1973 – 2001), before retiring to with his family to Brisbane. Ill-health has restrained any further ministry involvement in retirement.
John (Ivo) Gamosh has been a significant figure among Yugoslav believers in Australia. During the 1960s-1980s, he established two churches. In 1984 he formed the first Slavic AOG Board in Australia. His idea was to pull together Yugoslav believers in order to encourage cooperation and fellowship. It was an important move, given the tendency of church communities based on the former Republic of Yugoslavia to fracture along linguistic and ethnic lines. His constituency was too scattered and small to provide him with full time ministry (in 1996, there were only 17,000 Croatian born people in NSW [over 90 percent of whom identified themselves as Catholic], though the total former Yugoslav community in Australia was closer to 200,000), and so everything he did he did while also working in such places as a leather factory, a butchery etc. Without the benefit of bible school, his heart for lost souls pushed him to achieve remarkable things across a long life of ministry. As the children of his early associates and converts have grown, and the community has moved around, his efforts bore considerable fruit not only in Sydney and Queanbeyan, but in Newcastle, Wollongong, Melbourne, Brisbane etc.
Interview, [John Gamosh], [05.09.2004], [Brisbane], [Private Collection]
I R Hall, ‘Europe, Eastern’, in S M Burgess and E Van Der Maas (ed), New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
© Southern Cross College, 2005