Hello Family and Friends!
Greetings from Banja Luka. I’d like to share a passage with you that my teammate, Stephen, shared during prayer yesterday:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.” – Isaiah 61:1-3
In the past 18 days that I’ve been living here, I’ve already heard of and seen injustice. Banja Luka and the broader country of Bosnia and Herzegovina struggles to keep peace. The war ended 15 years ago but the people are still affected by it. There is ethnic and religious hatred between cultures. The country is in no way united. The Serbs of the Republic of Srpska (a territory of Bosnia) stay in the republic and are more politically and culturally connected to the country of Serbia rather than Bosnia. Meanwhile, the Bosniaks remain in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (also a territory) and dislike the Serbs for their past acts of violence during the war. Then there is the region of Herzegovina which is primarily occupied by Croats. The Croats are more loyal to the country of Croatia and have recently isolated themselves by differentiating their language from the main Balkan language with unique words. Before the war, most of the ethnic groups lived together in the same cities. Now, Banja Luka and pretty much the entire Republic is made up of Serbs and only Serbs. It is obvious the three ethnic groups are separated physically and also culturally.
We’ve talked to the students about all of this. No one here actually hates the Bosniaks or Croats. In fact, most of the students are frustrated and feed up with the extreme nationalism in the Republic. No one wants another ware to start, but many believe that another war will occur because “it always does” or by fate it was meant to be. Because their grandparents experiences WWII and their parents experienced the Bosnian war, they believe they are most likely going to experience war too. There isn’t much hope here.
Then there is the major systematic problem of Bosnia’s economy and government. More than half of the population does not have a job. Most of the students we have met do not expect to get a job after they graduate, especially not in Bosnia. Anyone who does have a job usually goes to work in another country. This worsens the problem because when people work in and give their skills to another country, it can’t possibly build the economy in Bosnia. But, I don’t blame them cause most of the people who work here don’t get paid on time or at all. This really hit home when my friend, Tanja, told me that the employees of a factory near her house have been on strike for a few months because they hadn’t received any salary for their work. Forget about striking about working conditions or a raise – they just want to receive a paycheck. We’ve heard of the major corruption here. Business owners and government leaders live luxurious lifestyles on the taxes and business loans. The economy of Bosnia is hanging by a thread.
Most students wish to get out of Bosnia and get out fast. They want nothing more than to get a job that takes them out of the country, way from the corruption, racial hatred, and poverty. David, our EUS leader who lives here permanently, told a student that he wished to stay in Banja Luka and help people here. The student just laughed – the idea of wanting to stay in Bosnia seemed absurd and ridiculous.
So you can see how all of this can seem hopeless. That all of these problems are too big to be solved. No one believes that Bosnia can be united as 1 nation or pulled out of economic turmoil… but I do. My team does. The Christians that live here do. Sure, everything about Bosnia can seem negative or hopeless but God is bigger than all of it. No one can free Bosnia from injustice except God. The problems here may seem too complex and huge but God understands it.
When I read the above passage from Isaiah – I am filled with hope for Bosnia. God provides freedom. He is the comforter for all who mourn and the people of Bosnia are mourning. Camp starts in 3 days and I’m hoping that God will continue to use us to convey this message to the students of Banja Luka while we are still here. I am very excited to tell you that Suzana, my friend that I spoke of in my last email, will be coming to camp! Last Thursday, she read the Bible for the first time during our study of Nehemiah. At camp Suzana will get to meet students (some Muslims) from Sarajevo, continue to look at the Word, and hear the Gospel. It looks like about 6 other students from our English class will be coming to camp (and about 4 more are still considering). I am so excited to see what God will do in the next week in the lives of the students who attend camp.
I won’t have Internet access while at camp so this may be my last update until our debrief in Croatia or until I come home to the States. Please pray for…
1. The rest of the time my team has in Banja Luka. We leave on Friday. Pray for good impacting conversations with students who will not be coming to camp. Pray that we will share the hope we have in God with them.
2. The country of Bosnia. That it will remain peaceful. That the economy will begin to flourish and corruption and extreme nationalism will cease to exist. That the 3 racial groups will be united.
3. That God will bring students to camp and eliminate logistics or money obstacles preventing them from attending. That the students will really experience Him through the Word, preaching, worship, the community, and anyway that impacts and speaks to them. That God will change lives at camp.
4. My personal request is that I need prayer for my focus to be on loving my team and the students here. This last week I’ve really missed home and my family and boyfriend. I pray that the majority of my energy and focus is spent on the people here cause I was called to serve them and not be dwelling on my own problems. Yes, just pray against homesickness.
THANKS for listening! I know this was a very long email… Only 14 more days left! I know God is going to do BIG things in the next two weeks cause he already has!!!
With Love from Bosnia,
Nicole’s Bosnia Update! #4