So Many Relationships...So Little Time
Before we ever came to Bosnia, I remember Croatian Rahaela speaking at the our home church at the time, probably back in 1997 or 1998, and saying something like,"If you like reading and computers, stay in the US. If you like people, come to Bosnia." Merle is really great with people and shares the love of God and His grace, serving in so many different capacities, which is just what this country needs! He has learned language over 1000+ cups of coffee. We continue to run into people he knows everywhere we go. Pastor Dragan at church on Sunday said that Merle's fingerprints are all over Bosnia. It is truly amazing how encouraging all these comments are to us! Sometimes you don't think God is doing anything, because the harvest is so slow in coming! Merle is continuing to receive positive comments from the people he has had relationships with over the 20 years we have lived here. Like our previous newsletter called "Encouraging Words," here is another testimony which is very powerful:
"My experience of working alongside Merle Jones was both motivating and encouraging. Motivating, because his positive energy entices a person to act boldly in order to change things (in his/her personal life or society) for the better, which is also a testament to the transformative faith that is the source of that energy; and encouraging, because he walks with the person, offering wisdom in difficult times, in times when it is hard to move and find meaning; he is a good listener and knows how to offer the right words in the right moment.
Working with Merle Jones has left a deep and positive impact in my life, as well as many other lives in the Balkans. It was an opportunity to learn from a person who spent his life constantly working on and perfecting himself, while at the same time constantly helping others find their own way and place in life. His long-term presence in the Balkans gave him the necessary knowledge and insight into the situation in the region and the needs of individuals and the society. His main concern has always been how to improve society, and encourage the individual. That helped him find various programs and life-long learning projects that have transformed the Balkan context.
Personally, it is an honor to know Merle Jones, and it is always a joy to meet with him and learn from his life and wisdom."
We are visiting as many people as possible and visiting different churches in Sarajevo. Above is the Kosevsko Brdo church that our team planted 20+ years ago. It has changed, and different people serve there, as Sarajevo is a revolving door of harvesters. Ministries continue to change, and especially people. Above, is Petra, a Bosnian friend for many years, with Sutka and me. Taylor Irby and her family have been friends and working here for ten years. Unfortunately for Bosnia, but wonderful for the young people, is the trend to leave the country for work in Europe or other parts of the world and a better opportunity for their lives and futures. Dejan, from our home group, now works in Germany. He said this summer he wished he had gone many years ago.
Asima and Sutka were also in our home church group for the last number of years. Asima is rather home bound because of her ill health. She is doing better with some additional iron and has enough energy to walk out to the picnic table for coffee with her neighbor Vera! Merle helped remodel her kitchen years ago, and she is so appreciative of all the help Americans have given her over the years.
Sutka prayed years ago that God would put the expressway tunnel into Sarajevo through the mountain and come out by their home, so that their property could be sold and they could move to a more cosmopolitan area, as they were living in the Muslim neighborhood on Kobilja Glava where we lived for 12 years and met their family. Even though the original plans were for the tunnel to be in a different place, the plans changed and came out right at their house! The power of asking God! The road project people have purchased their property and they are in the process of moving to a new location close to the Olympic Stadium! God answered this unlikely prayer, among many of her others! The house needs a great deal of upgrading and Merle has been helping Zejnil to remodel or advise many aspects of the new place. Their older son, Haris, is working to improve the political situation here. Their younger son, Emir, is finally becoming a Swedish citizen and is now playing for their soccer team there! It was a long time coming and he has had to pass many hurdles with great patience. God has blessed their family! Sutka says she would be dead if we had not been here and she could write a book about all the ways God has blessed her! They suffered, along with many others, through the war in Sarajevo between 1992-95. Life has not been easy for them, but God...
Notice the end-dates above? The war was from 1992-1995. We reflect on life as we walk.
Doctor's orders for Jenny with her cough and blood pressure were to take a vacation! And since we needed to prolong the days that we could stay in Bosnia through the end of August for our visa, before we transition to Trogir, Croatia in September, we went to visit friends in Montenegro for her health and to swim daily for Jenny's back. Her blood pressure is finally leveling off, and she finally stopped coughing while we were there! But when we came back into Bosnia, she started having to clear her throat again, and has been choking and coughing again. Perhaps it is the diesel fuel fumes by our house as there is a lot of traffic all the time? Spiritual? Please pray for all these issues to clear up! Thank you!
The Orthodox Church has elaborate artwork in Trebenje, where we had to wait to have the car repaired. When studying the early church in the east, with its leaders in Constantinople, you learn about the iconoclasts who wanted to destroy this type of imagery.
We stopped at Blagaj where the pure frigid water flows into the Neretva River and they have an old traditional Muslim home set up. Tap to scroll the pictures on the slide show above. If you look closely at the people on the bridge, you can see covered ladies on one end of the bridge and short skirts on the other. East meets West. Bosnians do not want to lose their previous culture to more strict Islam, but it is definitely creeping in. The last picture shows the prayer beads draped on the old fashioned coffins in the home. In today's culture, our male neighbors carry the body to the cemetery on an open board covered with a cloth for burial. Covered women are at home praying by chanting and passing prayer beads.
We visited Dejana and Remi and they are doing great! They are quietly and actively serving the little town of Breza where we first had people respond to the Gospel, 20 years ago. She told a story about God telling her to invest in the local Preschool where her children were attending. When Dejana apologized for not being involved, the director cried because no one had ever done that before. When she asked what she could do to help, the director said she needed help in painting the children's chairs, and Remi paints cars! Dejana then wrote and asked some Americans for funds to buy a computer, printer, phone and other essentials that the school needed. Instead of sending $4000 as she had asked, they sent $5000! It was such a blessing to this little town and their influence there. They also painted the inside of the school and when they had a little celebration with some speeches, Dejana complemented the Major as to how they had helped to add to the success of the school. He told her in all the speeches he has made in the area, the people are always complaining, not complementing him in this shame-based culture. Since her involvement the attendance has grown to 150 children, rather than a small group. Dejana wants to work with the mothers, as well. She is a light in a dark place!
Dragan preaching about grace! That is a needed message in this area! Mark and Kay with Tomas and two young people came to visit from Gorazde when they were dropping friends off at the airport. I just don't get to see Kay often enough. We were able to see them in the States once in May! Visiting with Elvis and his friend, Vlado, who told us all kinds of things that are going on in the refugee camp in Bihac where they bring supplies. They help to provide two meals a day and provisions for travel for those brave enough to attempt the walk to the European Union where there are many more opportunities and less corruption.
We had lunch with Jenny and Dado and the kids on a beautiful mountainside above Sarajevo. It was great to catch up with them! Dado is working hard to keep his business CrossFit going strong. Jenny has her hands full with three active boys, and their cousin, too!
The empty nest is a real adjustment for me, Jenny. I really miss the interaction with my children. I am visiting with others and keeping up with all our friends and acquaintances, as well as writing to all of you, and writing our story of what God has done in our lives when I have time, which is a great opportunity. Being out in the community and visiting more often is improving my language, which I am really happy about, but is challenging and exhausting! I was also encouraged by a Bosnian friend who said my example of being a wonderful wife and mother has influenced her greatly. That was nice to hear.
Above is Luke's post with him doing a hand stand in Sarajevo. Home...hmm. Hannah will help Lydia move into college again in mid-August, this time at Toccoa Falls College in NE Georgia, very close to where Luke is staying and working at Paradise Ministries. She is still studying Nursing, but we felt she should be in a Christian school and so made the change. Please pray for a great roommate and many new friends! Please pray that this will be a great transition for a young woman who struggles with transition!
Tonight begins most holy Eid al-Adha - Corban Bajram - when tomorrow's sacrifices will be hanging in people's yard as they celebrate the obedience of Abraham in offering his son. Pictures to come.
Love to you all!