At about five o’clock our first morning in Tuzla, we awoke to hear a loud, wailing sound coming from somewhere in the distance. After shaking off our sleepy stupor, and remembering where we were and what we were doing there, we tried to figure out what it was that had so rudely awakened us after only five hours of sleep. We finally figured out that it was the sound of the muezzin (crier) of a mosque, calling faithful Muslims to prayer. We later determined that this mosque was across the highway from us, only about 300 or so yards away. Eventually, we would become accustomed to the muezzin’s cry, and it no longer woke us.
Another trademark sound of the city soon greeted us. Later in the day, as we were finishing lunch, a faint roaring sound began to approach. The sound grew increasingly loud until it became deafening and the entire house shook. When we looked out the window to see what the source of the noise was, we were greeted by the sight of a column of U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers, on their way back to the American military base that was only a few miles from our house. “Well,” we said to each other, “At least they are OUR guys!”
As the roar of the armored column faded into the distance, we experienced a third sound that we would hear often over the next year: Clippity clop, clippity clop, clippity clop. A glance out the window revealed this to be a ubiquitous feature of Tuzla: a horse-drawn cart. After all this, Jennifer and I asked each other, “What kind of place is this? What have we done?” We had truly come to a land of contrasts: Mercedes Benzes, tanks, and horse-drawn carts. Great mansions and totally burned-out and leveled houses. Cell phones and land lines that didn’t work. People filled with hate, others filled with joy due to their relationship with Christ, and everything in between.
At first we felt fortunate, because at least we had water around the clock. People who lived in the city limits and who had city water only had it from about 4 PM to about 8 AM due to the damage that the war had inflicted on the water system. They had to keep their bathtubs filled with water for the "down" times. The house we were renting, however, was just outside of town, and our water came from an underground spring. This was great—until the summer, when the hot, dry weather cause the spring to start drying up. By July, the water coming out of our taps little more than a trickle, and we had to start getting most of our water from an outdoor spring. Showers were impossible. If we wanted a hot bath, we had to fill up a kettle with water from the bottles we kept it in, heat it on our stove, and pour it in the tub. For the first time in my life, I understood the meaning of the phrase “drawing a bath!”
Even when the weather cooled and we again had water flowing through our pipes, the color of the water varied from rust to whitish to (rarely) clear. Even the locals marveled at the poor quality of our water. Once a Bosnian friend of ours turned on the tap and filled up a glass with water. It looked more like milk. He said to us, “What is this, some kind of joke?!?” We assured him that it wasn’t and that this is how our water was most of the time. We tried using a filter, but it would get clogged up after only a few hours of use. So, we gave up and eventually went back to getting our drinking water from the outdoor spring. We certainly learned never to take water for granted any more.
Another hardship we faced was dealing with the Tuzla Baptist Church, whose leaders were, to use the popular phrase, “a piece of work.” First we were in good relations with them and attended regularly. Then we got kicked out. Later, we were invited back. Also, there are the Muslim fundamentalists who came after us a couple of times. But more on that next time, when I write about our ministry...