As soon as I left the building, I realized I had made a serious mistake in my clothing choice. Clearly we had entered into the winter months, and I was shivering within a few blocks. I was in a small, primarily Muslim town in Bosnia, on the way to dinner with two new friends. Perhaps it was the rapidity of the season’s change—overnight, fall had descended into to a gray, biting cold—but I sensed an oppression over this small town that shrouded my spirits in a murky fog.
“In some ways, things are harder here than right after the war,” and American woman, M., who has served and worked in the town for 14 years told me. “After the war, people had hope that things would change and get better. Well, 14 years later, nothing much is different.” Unemployment hovers around 70% in this small town, high even for Bosnia where the national average is about 43%. Putting food on the table, paying the electric bill, and having enough wood to heat one room in the house for winter remains a constant stress. Terrible memories of the war still haunt many, illustrated by the fact that it constantly comes up in conversation.
My friends live in a house similar to many others—without central heating, the majority of daily life happens in the main room with the wood stove. These women serve in a small, young church in the town. There is nothing easy about working with a church here. Even though many people are merely nominal Muslims, the war further cemented the inextricable connection between their ethnic and religious identity, thus creating some significant psychological, social, and emotional barriers to the Good News.
“Many of my friends and family no longer talk to me and some are angry with me,” said L., a believer of 4 years. M. had prayed for him for 10 years before he encountered Jesus, an encounter that so visibly changed him in the space of an evening that a visiting team of Americans serving the community could not help but notice. “Did L. meet Jesus or something?” one asked after seeing his face the next morning.
Despite the challenges of friends and family, his joblessness, and struggle for money, L. was anything but despondent when I interviewed him. He told me story after story of God’s incredible provision through unlikely sources and means.
“God is amazing,” he said, his face wreathed in a smile. “One day I was at a men’s conference in Croatia, and I only had enough money in my pocket for a hamburger from McDonald’s, which I had been really looking forward to. When the offering plate came by, God told me to put all 7 kuna(about $1.50) in the plate. There was a big internal battle, but I did it. Later, when I met my friends at McDonald’s, one of them had already purchased a hamburger for me. ‘This is for you, L.,’ he said, handing it to me.”
Amidst the economic, spiritual, emotional, and social hardships, God’s daily provision is an equal reality. I was amazed by my new friends’ endurance—a tenacity that I liken to pushing a heavy boulder up a steep, icy slope. It is possible only one shuffling step at a time, and often one slips back several paces. Such a feat would seem impossible, but God’s spirit blows powerfully from behind, enabling one to stand upright and keep moving forward. This is the difficult, pioneering work of softening resistantly rocky soil, and my friends are persevering faithfully.
Please go to Prayer Points/Bosnia to see how to pray for this town. Stay tuned to hear more about how God is working in this town—evidenced by His ardent and irrepressible pursuit in Q.’s story.