Greetings from Sarajevo!
Upon our arrival we were met by a missionary couple, Gerald and Corrie. Gerald is American and Corrie is Dutch, but now an American citizen. They took us to Old Town Sarajevo for an authentic Bosnian dinner. After our delicious meal, we went for a Turkish coffee, but found the Turkish coffee shops full of noisy soccer fans because Bosnia was playing in the World Cup. So we found a regular coffee shop. Over coffee and dessert, Corrie told me their war story:
We were missionaries here for five years, and I had thought that we would always stay here. We had three small children, the youngest two had been born here, and I was pregnant with the fourth. We knew that war was a possibility, but the news media minimized the threat. And besides that, they had signed the treaty, so we didn’t really think that it would happen. But regardless, in war or peace, we were determined to stay. We were young and the call of God for Sarajevo was so strong for both of us that really, we were in denial about the serious possibility of war.
Nevertheless, we needed to go back to the US to raise support and meet with our church, and the best time would be for two months beginning in April, so that we could be back for the summer because summer was an important time in our ministry.
Rachel, an American who had lived in Israel, had just come to help me with the children, and she would stay in the house while we were gone. We went with two empty suitcases because there were many things that we couldn’t get in Sarajevo, so we intended to buy things to bring back. We never imagined that we were leaving for good. So we left and two weeks later, war broke out.
I felt so bad—almost guilty—for having left, though I know now that it was God’s plan to rescue our family. I was concerned for our friends and neighbors, and of course for Rachel. Contact was impossible, all communication was cut off. On TV, we saw the tanks entering town in the very park where our children played. It was surreal, and I tried to understand what I was seeing.
At this point shouting filled the street—Bosnia had won the soccer match, and the street quickly filled with flag-draped, cheering fans. Corrie smiled at me, and continued:
Since we couldn’t come back to Sarajevo, we lived for seven years in the Netherlands, before finally moving to the US. Gerald traveled back once a year, doing what he could here.
We visited Sarajevo after the war, not knowing what we would find. Rachel, having lived in a war zone, had gotten herself out safely. But our friends and neighbors? Information was slow in coming, and in many cases, we never found out at all. One family from the church had gotten out and moved to Germany, close to the border with the Netherlands, so we were able to visit them while we lived there. We had heard about another couple from church who moved to the US. And a friend who was also pregnant had been taken in the night to the hospital, and gave birth there by candlelight.
We found our house with the door and all the windows missing. All our things had been taken, though we found a hand juicer in a corner, and the familiarity of the object was jarring. Then I went upstairs and began screaming for Gerald. All our family pictures were strewn all over the floor, taken out of the albums. We gathered them like lost treasure. Those were the only things, besides the washer, that remained—and the washer had been gutted for parts, like an abandoned car. A few days later, we returned to the house and found that even the empty hull of the washer had been hauled off.
So our children grew up in the States. Then last year, Gerald told me that he wants to move back to Sarajevo. I didn’t feel ready to move back, leaving our children there (and a daughter in Holland) but after much prayer, I agreed, and we moved in August.
I was speechless at first. It was a very sobering thing to arrive in Sarajevo and find that the house across the street from our lodgings with bullet holes all over the façade from when the soldiers with Kalashnikovs had sprayed the area with gunfire—especially knowing how recent that war was. But it was another thing altogether to hear this personal story of war and God’s miraculous rescue of this family. Imagine what might have happened if they had stayed. They might have lost the baby (and mother!) or Gerald might have been killed.
And this morning, Corrie brought a friend to meet me. She has been friends with Radosta for 26 years. Radosta recalled with smiles how she had carried their youngest in a baby backpack through town. Radosta would sing and the baby would lift her hands in praise. Reuniting with Radosta had been a real joy and a blessing for Corrie.
God calls each of us into divine partnership with Him, and for those who answer His call (unless He has called them for martyrdom), He shields them and their family from harm. God is good!
This had been the park where Corrie’s children had sledded down the hill. Now it’s a cemetery for those who died in the war–including their first convert to Christianity.
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