Monthly Archives: May 2013

Kosovo: Not the Wild West

“Kosovo?  You are going to Kosovo?  Is that safe?  What about the border crossing—where will you enter?”  my friends in Croatia asked me. Even in this part of the world, there is a myriad of unknown surrounding Kosovo, and many people I talked to had never visited it themselves.

Although the war in Kosovo—parties involved being Serbian forces, NATO, and the Kosovo Liberation Army(KLA)—has been over for 14 years, certain areas are still tense as the international community attempts to mediate disparate claims between Serbia and the five-year old Kosovo.  Kosovar Serbs, who still do not recognize Kosovo’s government, are outraged at the recent Brussels agreement which attempts to move them towards a workable integration, even while allowing them some measure of autonomy. IMG_4206

All of this was on my mind as my friend and I  left the groomed highway of central Serbia and bounced along the poor, deeply rutted roads of Southern Serbia.

After some research and worry, we had no problems at the border.   The Serbian guard joked with us as he glanced at our passports, and the Kosovo side charged us 30 Euros for insurance—which, as it turns out, was not a bad investment as I quickly realized that driving in Kosovo felt like an “every man for himself” adventure.

Although it was rapidly growing dark, the “urban” landscape difference between Southern Serbia and Kosovo was almost immediately noticeable—it was apparent from the buildings and houses that a lot of  money had been poured into Kosovo since the war, in contrast to the rural poverty of Southern Serbia.

We drove a couple of more hours to our first destination—Pejě/Peć. Largely IMG_4243destroyed by the war, it is now completely rebuilt and bordered by startlingly high green mountains.   I was astonished when we passed the monastery—considered the “spiritual seat” of Patriarchs for the Serbian Orthodox Church, it is surrounded by barbed wires and guarded by KFOR(NATO-led international peacekeepers).  There are still a couple dozen nuns inside, but we were informed by the polite Slovenian guard that we had missed visiting hours.

The history and present situation of Kosovo is difficult to wrap my mind around, IMG_4250and in some ways the “double-named” towns shown on the map (Pejě is Albanian and Peć is Serbian) illustrate what I discovered—viewpoints on the past and current situation radically differ depending on whether the person is Kosovar Albanian or Kosovar Serb, whether the person is Muslim, Orthodox, or Protestant.  Of course, I don’t mean to imply that truth does not exist or that a correct understanding is not critically important—but an outsider must tread carefully, examining each strand of influence, information, and nuance before drawing any conclusions.

The stories  I gained on my journey were fascinating and tragic—from Kosovar Albanians who had lost family members in the slaughter of a village, to a Serbian Baptist who bravely stayed for his flock until finally fleeing for his life from his childhood town, to the complex religious-political situation that the Protestant churches now face.  As always, I found God alive and well and actively working in Kosovo.  Please join me for the next few blogs where I muse over some of my findings and stories.

For more information on the recent EU-brokered deal:   Kosovo, Serbia agree EU deal action plan

The Nakedness of our Humanity

What started out as a small issue in the little Darda church is quickly brewing into a huge storm that could threaten everything.

One man whom we thought would surely be a leader in the church has now turned against us. Of course, this has deeply saddened us, but even worse, he has been going house to house  speaking ill of us.  We hear that he is trying to recruit people for his own church—and he has only been a follower of Jesus for less than a year.  Now, some people have stopped coming to the church.

“I feel like this church will not last,”  one of the team members said, as we discussed a course of action.  “It is a good thing my faith is not based on feelings.”

Earlier, we had visited one of the families who had stopped coming to the church.  The woman look slightly ashamed, polite but not overjoyed to see us as we drank coffee together.  She admitted this man had been coming and speaking against us.

At the next house, we ran into the man.  He was there with his Bible, teaching the family.  I had not seen him for months since he had stopped coming to the church.  We greeted him warmly, and at first I was hopeful that perhaps this could be a positive interaction.  However, when he was leaving, it took an ugly turn when he yelled out some accusations.

We were all exhausted and hungry in our team meeting, but these are important issues.   We looked at different scriptures where Paul had similar situations.  Should we address the troublemaker directly by name in the church?  Should we keep it ambiguous and preach against gossip?  Should we merely ignore the problem and bless him? What is the appropriate Biblical course of action in this cultural context? It’s hard to make decisions when there are no guaranteed outcomes.

“I know how my culture works,” Đeno said.  “One person can be like a fly that constantly disrupts and causes big trouble over very small issues.”

Through our conversation, I was struck by something I had been musing on lately.  Being a part of the process of this new church is removing many of my presuppositions about how a church actually grows. When we strip away all the bells and whistles, standing only in the nakedness of our humanity….it quickly becomes apparent that there is no earthly way a church can survive in its own strength.  In such a moment, I realize how much the Holy Spirit  does in a church—how all things are actually held together in Christ and woven together through the Spirit—even if sometimes we like to take more credit then we should because of “good programs” or a “charismatic leader.”

In fact, I can say that every thriving church is a miracle and testimony of the power of God in the face of everything that would conspire against it—our sin,  our selfishness and desire for power, the principalities and powers.

We finished our discussion as we always do—in prayer for wisdom, for the people in the villages, for God’s help and direction.  I realize I have no idea what will happen, nor any real control.  I find, surprisingly, that I am far from hopeless.  In fact,  I am actually anticipating how and when the Spirit will act.  I have a feeling that this is exactly when the story gets even better.