“Everyone is guilty when the war starts because people start to kill each other and when one person is dead, revenge begins and there is no end to that. So don’t ask who is guilty…there is a chain of guilt.”
S. leaned forward on his knees, moving easily between English and Serbian as he jumped from one topic to another. As I listened, it was difficult to follow the timeline for his busy and eventful life—here was a man who had run the race at full speed regardless of the circumstances.
As we sipped juice late into the night in his small town in Serbia, S. regaled me with dozens of stories—and I somehow knew these were only the tip of the iceberg.
Born in Kosovo, S. and his wife always had a passion for Christian literature and a desire to translate it into the languages used in Yugoslavia. Even before they opened the church in Kosovo in 1969, they would ride together on one bicycle, tossing out Albanian tracts at various crossroads, putting them in mail boxes, and throwing them over fences. At one point, S. found a copy of an Albanian New Testament and printed thousands of copies.
“I never had a problem with Albanians,” he insisted. “We studied and went to school together. In the time of Tito, we never ever thought of anyone on the national level. That did not exist between us. That started after the 1970’s when it was seen that Tito’s death was approaching and nationalism arose in our country.”
S.’s literature dispersal even extended over the borders of Yugoslavia. One university student would come and take packages of his Albanian Christian literature. S. didn’t know what he was doing with it until Albania’s communist regime collapsed in 1990 and he traveled over the border for a visit in 1991.
“This student lived on the border between Serbia and Albania. There was a cave that you could enter in Serbia and come out in Albania. He was bringing packages of literature from Serbia to Albania…because at that time it was impossible to enter Albania.”
Yugoslavia had many freedoms that other communist countries did not have, including greater religious freedom. Authorities turned a blind eye to religious gatherings as long as they stayed within the law, gathered in their own groups, and did no public evangelism. But with his active evangelism and literature distribution all over Yugoslavia, S. faced many obstacles and challenges—a month-long stint in prison, threats, police traps, defamation and false rumors. S. and his wife weathered all the storms, continuing to expand their work. S. also traveled all over Yugoslavia, preaching and planting churches. The church in Kosovo had about 100 people in its prime, both Albanian and Serbian.
“We were doing the job as God was leading us. We didn’t plan big things or dream that something big would happen,” S. said
But the church in Kosovo was not immune to the rising tensions between Albanians and Serbians in the 80s and 90s.
“Albanians were very much afraid in those days to come on Sunday because they were afraid their neighbors would see them coming to church. So they came on Thursday. Those were sensitive times…we were under the eye of the police and people were afraid.”
S. pointed to another factor that he believed contributed to the encroaching instability—he claimed that Albanian professors came from Albania to help Albanians study their own history but in fact “brainwashed” them with propaganda, leading to demonstrations.
Suffice to say that the disputed history and claims on Kosovo are too extensive to address in a blog story. People’s perceptions and stories differ according to their own experiences, both personally and within their ethnic communities.
But amidst all the complex factors leading to the war, an essential fact surfaces that has echoes throughout histories of warfare—in politically unstable times, competing historical narratives can be used as a weapon by those who are panting after power.
And so, even as E. could not believe that such atrocities could come to his doorstep, S. did not believe that true peace would remain elusive after the war, and so he continued his work as the bombing began….