We joined all of the other missionary evacuees in a hotel in Croatia, where we spent a week grieving, praying, and talking with our colleagues about where to go. We were determined to one day return to Banja Luka, so we decided that it would be best to go to another part of Bosnia, where we could continue studying the language. Although Tuzla seemed like an obvious place to go, we felt that there would be too much pressure to immediately get involved in ministry, and our language learning would suffer. Finally, we decided to go to Sarajevo. To be exact, we would settle in the suburb of Ilidza, which had been predominantly inhabited by Serbs before the war, and which still had a fairly large Serb population.
When we arrived in Sarajevo around the first of April, 1999, we were totally unprepared for what we saw there. As I mentioned before, Tuzla and Banja Luka had suffered little damage during the war. This had not been the case in Sarajevo, where some of the worst fighting took place. During the four-year long war, parts of Sarajevo had changed sides dozens of times. As we drove around the city, we stared in utter disbelief as we saw entire neighborhoods that had been reduced to mere rubble. Graveyards with hundreds of fresh graves were ubiquitous. It seemed as if a perpetual dark cloud hung over the city, along with a spirit of deep, dark depression. Once again, we asked ourselves what on earth we were doing here! Once again (the fourth time in three years), we struggled with depression and culture shock.
We soon found a nice house in which to stay and immersed ourselves in language study. We did nothing but study the language for several months, because we wanted to be completely fluent by the time we returned to Banja Luka—though we had to idea when that would be. Between the 13 months that we had spent in Tuzla and the several months of intensive, immersion language study that we did during our first several months in Sarajevo, we became essentially fluent in the Bosnian/Serbian language. By the end of the year, I was able to lead Bible studies entirely in Bosnian.
In the fall of our first year in Sarajevo, we began teaching ESL at our organization’s educational center, to have a means to build relationships with people with whom we could eventually share the Gospel. One day in December, as I was walking home from my last class, I noticed that there was a crunching sound coming from under my feet. I immediately realized that it had begun to snow. This was no surprise, for it had snowed many times before that day. What made this snow different was that it did not stop for several days. In fact, the snow did not stop until we had about 3 feet worth. Then it did stop for a day or so, which gave me enough time to shovel our walk.
Soon the snow began to fall again, and again it did not stop for several days. By the time the snow had finally stopped for good, we had a total of nearly six feet on the ground! Needless to say, we Texas natives had no prior experience in dealing with so much snow! Our car was completely buried, and even if it had not been, it took nearly a week for the roads to be clear enough to drive on. So, if we needed food or anything else, we simply put on our snow boots and trudged through the snow until we had what we needed. Thankfully, we did not lose water or power (at least not for long). I will never forget the sight of all that snow, which in places was piled up over my head, and which took about two months to completely melt.
The rest of our time in Sarajevo was relatively uneventful. We taught a few more English classes, and I led a few Bible studies and even preached in a local church (in Bosnian) once, but we mainly just kept on studying the language. In November of 1999, one of our colleagues who had lived in Belgrade before the bombing was offered the opportunity to move to Banja Luka. He accepted the offer, and I helped him move. This was my first time to be in Banja Luka for 8 months. It was wonderful to be back. Nothing seemed to have changed. Although we too could have moved back then, we decided to wait until the school year was over, for Audrey’s sake. She was attending a local public school (having become completely fluent in the language), and we felt it was important for her to be able to finish a whole school year in one place, for the first time in her life.
While in Sarajevo, I met a man who was a devout Orthodox Serb. One Sunday, I attended his church, known popularly as the “Old Orthodox Church.” Old it was indeed; while the majority of the structure dated from the 18th century, parts of it were actually built in the 6th century. Now that is old! Unfortunately, the service did not make much of an impression on me, partly because we arrived very late (classic Orthodox!), and I could not understand most of the service. Still, it was neat to be in such an old and historic church.
Finally, in late July, it was time to return to our beloved adopted city of Banja Luka. After yet another long delay, we were about to “arrive.” We would finally be in the place we wanted to be, doing what we wanted to be doing, and fluent in the language to boot. I am sure that God must have been laughing as we were having those thoughts!