Thursday, May 31, 2007

Change of Scenery (BBB Part Nine)

The civil war in Bosnia ended in November of 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Accord. At that time, the Bosnian state, which had formerly been one of the six republics that comprised Yugoslavia, was divided into two autonomous “entities”: the Muslim/Croat Federation and the Serb Republic. Scattered throughout Bosnia, particularly in the Federation, were a small number of national Baptists and other Evangelical Christians. Their leaders, with the help of the Croatian Baptist Union, had conducted humanitarian work throughout Bosnia during the war and had won a substantial number of converts. When the war ended, these leaders appealed to our mission agency to send some missionaries to help expand their work.

Needless to say, there was not a large number of people flocking to serve in war-torn Bosnia, which was only in a state of peace because of the 60,000 or so NATO troops stationed there. Eventually, however, four veteran missionary couples who had either just retired or were about to retire agreed to serve for six months until longer-term volunteers could be found. They began arriving in September of 1996. Part of their task was helping to continue the humanitarian work that had begun during the war. But their main task was to win converts and start Bible studies that would ultimately lead to churches. Two of the couples went to the northeastern town of Tuzla, which had not been damaged nearly as much as some parts of the country, such as Sarajevo.

By January of 1997, Jennifer’s and my frustration about the difficulty of living in Prague and the lack of direction in our ministry had reached its peak. In spite of this, we never had any thoughts of going anywhere else. We knew that things had to get better eventually, and that God would grant us the ability to carry out the ministry that He had called us to. We were just not aware that the ministry would be outside of the Czech Republic!

One day, while we were reading our mission agency’s monthly magazine, we came across an urgent appeal for more volunteers to go to Bosnia. The initial volunteers’ terms were almost up, and still no one had stepped forth to replace them. As I read the appeal, it happened again: The Lord seemed to speak to me in that mysterious, voiceless manner that I had experienced twice before. I felt like He was telling me in essence: YOU will be one of their replacements! I spoke to Jennifer about it, and she agreed that this was most likely the Lord’s will for us.

The next thing was to obtain permission to make this big move. We were serving a two-year term, and the policy of the mission board was that two-year volunteers do not move in the middle of their terms.

Around the first of February, I shared our desire with our supervisor and asked him, “Is it even possible for us to do this?” After speaking to his supervisor, he said, “It’s not only possible, we want and need you to go!” We were given a month to get ready and say our goodbyes. Then, on March 7, a missionary in Croatia arrived in the van that would carry us and our things to our new home. One of the first thing he said to us was, “Well, are you ready to go to Bosnia?”

4 comments:

Clint said...

While my experience in Estonia was not immediately after a war, there was still a sense of fear among so many of them. Just 10 years before we moved there, they had faced down Soviet tanks, hoisted their own flag, etc. But that uneasiness was still present.

Not to mention a hatred for all things Russian.

Anonymous said...

About 1950, in grade school in Florida, our class had a guest from Estonia, who talked a little about coming to the USA after losing her home. I was too young to really "get" it, but the impression stayed. After the war in Bosnia, the news brought this memory back strongly.

Anonymous said...

James, the suspense is killing me! Please continue your story.

Marc
SEF SA

Fr. James Early said...

Marc,

I'm not sure if you noticed, but I have written 11 new parts to BBB since part nine. By the way, what does "SEF SA" mean?