“The shooting was right under your nose. You wondered if a missile would jump into your bed!” Pastor D. still seemed incredulous about his night of sleeping in “Sniper Alley” during the siege of Sarajevo in 1995. “It was a nightmare. Serbs were shooting on the city, and Muslims, Croats and some Serbs were firing back. Also, NATO was just beginning its attack on Serb positions.”
During the siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia—the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare–Sniper Alley earned its grim reputation by its inherent danger to innocent civilians (one report cited over 1,000 people shot, resulting in over 200 deaths, 60 of them children). The street’s centralized location in Sarajevo made it a necessary route for people to travel in order to seek water and food, and its proximity to tall buildings and Sarajevo’s surrounding mountains created a haven for sniper nests.
Why would D. travel to Sarajevo and put himself in such a position? D. was no stranger to life-threatening situations, bringing humanitarian aid into Romania after its 1989 revolution and enduring months of war in Osijek, Croatia. Perhaps he could empathize with the people in Sarajevo who had already weathered two years of deprivation and torment, and so when two friends invited him to accompany their mission of encouragement to the handful of Christians there, he did not hesitate.
Few options existed to access the city, but at that point in the siege, extreme privation inspired both desperate acts and creative ways of survival. There was a secret, 700 meter passage under the airport that moved a steady stream of provisions, people, and weapons in and out the city. There were also a few mountainous routes, and the three men navigated through one of these roads and ended up at the U.N. French base at the Sarajevo airport. Somehow, they convinced a French officer to let them in, and soon they were gathered with believers in Sarajevo.
Since there were some new believers who wished to be baptized, they were compelled to go find enough water to fill the baptismal tub. There, under the dim but somehow sacred light of candles, D. and the other two men baptized three individuals: a Serb, a Croat, and a Muslim. “This epitomized the kingdom of God, ” D. reflected. A poignant picture—amidst the deafening sound of hatred and violence, three people died to their old allegiances, emerging from the water as a new creation, clothed in Christ so that oneness in Christ would transcend their ethnic identities.
As they laid down to go to sleep amidst the barrage of gunfire, D. a newly-wed, felt fear. And yet, “God was there, ” D. mused with certainty.
“Did you feel his presence?” I asked him.
“I didn’t necessarily sense him anymore than I sense him now, ” he said, “but we had to trust him. Those were special times, and I believe God’s special protection was upon us.”