Can It Really Be?!
WOW! We are celebrating 20 years on the mission field this month, October 2019. We went to Bosnia shortly after the Bosnian war (1992-95) with our church, Northside Community Church, to teach in an English camp in Sarajevo. We felt God leading us to return full-time, when Merle felt the Lord say to him, "I want to use your hands in Bosnia," so we raised support to come to the field on the "5 to life" program. Right before the feared Y2K, we packed up our belongings, and moved. Little did we know that our little Lydia Ksenia was born this very month, and Luke Andrej three months later, though they didn't join our family until May, 2001. We have participated in so many areas of ministry it is hard to even list them all, but we thought it would be appropriate to include a number of pictures to represent the many ways God has used us and blessed us in this ministry to which He has called us.
We were part of a team, whom we are still very close to, to plant a church in a rented house in Kosevsko Brdo, an area of the city lacking a church. Most of our people could not afford the bus to get to church, or it would just take too long to take three modes of transportation to be involved, so we transported people for years to Sarajevo from the small village of Breza where we had been working and there had been a response to the Gospel. An interesting development over the first 5 or so years were the Iranian refugees that were coming to Bosnia at the time, and some came to our fellowship and were included in our Sarajevo small group. They were hungry to learn and fun to teach. We also had some Roma/gypsy friends who joined us. Over 5 years the church grew and expanded to include up to 150 people overflowing on the stairs and almost hanging out the windows of the tiny attic space. Our leader, Lawn, believed that one large fellowship would be better for growth than dividing them too soon, but finally the time had come. Two buildings were eventually purchased, one on Kosevsko Brdo (KB), and one in the village of Breza to expand the church. The Roma church began to meet separately at Bob and Eileen's Lighthouse, with Reinhold as their pastor, and the Iranians were sponsored to go all over the world. One family, Joseph and his children, moved to Norway, and couldn't find a church in their area that proclaimed the truth, so they started their own!
Along with developing the church and leading several small groups, Merle did many post-war humanitarian aid projects, including the immediate needs of fixing bathrooms and kitchens to be operational for those in our fellowships. He oversaw a school renovation project, and other building projects for neighbors. He was always willing to help and jumped right into projects that needed doing. Many young people whose parents had died in the war looked to Merle as a father figure and listened to his good advice. Cuma, left alone, needed help and he promised to help her in life and even carry her coffin to the grave site. We did distribution of Bosnian Bibles, the Jesus film outreach at the theater in town, Samaritan Christmas boxes, and many different projects that went on over the years. There are just too many things to tell about or put pictures in for everything!
One of our own, a young man named Mladen, who was on fire for Jesus and felt called to lead the church in Breza, led that fellowship, and Pastor Slavko from the lower portion of Bosnia & Herzegovina was called to lead the Kosevsko Brdo church, along with his family. Though we continued to serve those churches for a year or so more, we moved on to develop a ministry center in Sarajevo where people could easily come to us, partnering with a couple with whom we had already worked, Tom and Kristie.
At that time, we transferred our sending agency to the Evangelical Free Church Mission (EFCM, now called Reach Global), with whom our church had partnered and where we had attended Candidate School Training. In 2007, we started with ARM Ministries, and by this time Merle was moving out of Humanitarian relief and more into Leadership Development, Team Building, and Experiential Learning Ministry as outreach to enhance the Sports University Practicum. Because of the outdoor beauty of Bosnia and their interest in adventure sports, his outreaches in rock climbing, rappelling, snowboarding, hiking, and rafting became very effective. His ministry was to bring the young college-aged students out of the smoke-filled cafes to a challenging and fun activity in the outdoors of God's beautiful creation, to impact them with truths from God's Word and have the time to invest in their personal lives, teaching them experientially Kingdom concepts of integrity, compassion, and unity. WinShape Wilderness (now called WinShape Teams) helped us immensely by providing guidance and training, both in the US and in Bosnia, and even provided some equipment for us! You can see some of the impact Merle has had in some of the lives of students, both Believers and non-believers, through their Encouraging Words.
Jenny kept the home fires burning, home schooling the children, and often leading worship at the KB Church, the Ministry Center, Raphael Fellowship, the International Church, and small house churches which developed out of the Ministry Center. She participated in and later led the Ladies Bible Study, which was an integrated group of missionaries from all the different agencies in Sarajevo, and later added military wives and their young children. She was able to teach piano to a few missionary children over the years, led Reader's Theater classes for middle school-aged missionary kids, interacted with the Roma ladies that came by the house to get a handout, and served many DTS groups, neighbors, visitors, and other missionary families with her meals and Christmas parties.
All three children attended the local Bosnian school just down the road for four years, which in hindsight was probably not the best educational choice but it helped them to have friends in the neighborhood and learn some language, as there weren't any other affordable options. As the language broadened beyond what they could bear, Jenny home schooled them, for Hannah through High School graduation, and for Lydia and Luke, through tenth grade when we shifted to the States for their final two High school years. We celebrated their graduate from Eagles Landing Christian Academy May 2018. We returned to the mission field in the fall of 2018, Merle serving in Barbuda working for Samaritan's Ministry, then we served a YWAM base in St. Lucia, returned to Bosnia, and also Croatia this year.
Having grown up in Sarajevo, adjustment to living in America is not easy, as the culture is completely different. There is a much greater depth of relationship and time for people in Bosnia, and though they spoke English at home and read and comprehended English well, there are still things they don't understand about the way things operate in the States that we take for granted. Loneliness is a struggle on the field with a lack of family connection, as they barely know their relatives who are still living. We were forced to be close as a family.
There are so many things that we just can't share everything - wedding, funerals, Birthday parties, Bajram, teammates, visiting groups, meetings, camps, Holidays, and so much more!! Twenty years of memories and an unbelievable number of pictures, all treasures of our hearts! Looking through them cause tears of thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness and abundant blessings!
We are particularly grateful to our many financial supporters, including several supporting churches, who have made these past twenty (plus) years possible, and our home churches, First Baptist - Atlanta, Northside Community Church, Riverside Community Church, and First Baptist Church - Jonesboro, as well as Eagles Landing First Baptist Church, for providing housing and education, as well as direction and training over the years.
To God be the Glory! Great things He has done! And is still doing! Stay tuned as we continue on The Jones Journey!