Roma Travel Journal - Day 13
I've been sending more pictures these last few days. I’m feeling inadequate with words for describing what we’re experiencing. There’s so much…
We received word from Amy in Sarajevo. She’s arrived safe and sound. I teared up when reading her email this morning. How close the members of a VIM team can become. VIM teams are microcosms of the church and the family of God. Each person is gifted; not all are aware of their gifts or willing to use them. Like all families, we sometimes irritate each other, our personalities sometimes clash a bit, and in the end, Christ pulls us together and we come to love each other deeply. In today’s church if we don’t conscientiously come together in classes or small groups, or serve together, we remain acquaintances, never moving to the level of love that we are called to. Oh dear – I’ve taken to preaching – or meditating. It’s just after 6:00 in the morning and everyone else is sleeping.
We are so insulated in the US – by distance, oceans, and attitude – that most times whatever happens “over there” (Serbia, for example) is noted and quickly forgotten. As we struggle to understand the Roma “situation,” different in each country, and even in each neighborhood, that “situation” resides within a mix of country boundaries, languages, and recent history. Amy was always very careful about what she shared of her relationship with people in Bosnia. Her stories began to sensitize us to remember the bigger picture. Here’s your history briefing for the day [skip the next long paragraph if not interested]:
In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic became president of the Republic of Serbia and his ultranationalist calls for Serbian domination led to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. In 1991, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared independence, followed by Bosnia in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in April 1992 and under Milosevic's leadership, Serbia led various military campaigns to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a "Greater Serbia." These actions were ultimately unsuccessful and led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. Milosevic retained control over Serbia and eventually became president of the FRY in 1997. In 1998, an ethnic Albanian insurgency in the formerly autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo provoked a Serbian counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres and massive expulsions of ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. The Milosevic government's rejection of a proposed international settlement led to NATO's bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999, to the withdrawal of Serbian military and police forces from Kosovo in June 1999, and to the stationing of a NATO-led force in Kosovo to provide a safe and secure environment for the region's ethnic communities. FRY elections in late 2000 led to the ouster of Milosevic and the installation of democratic government. In 2003, the FRY became Serbia and Montenegro, a loose federation of the two republics. Widespread violence predominantly targeting ethnic Serbs in Kosovo in March 2004 caused the international community to open negotiations on the future status of Kosovo in January 2006. In June 2006, Montenegro seceded from the federation and declared itself an independent nation. Serbia subsequently gave notice that it was the successor state to the union of Serbia and Montenegro. In February 2008, after nearly two years of inconclusive negotiations, the UN-administered province of Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia - an action Serbia refuses to recognize. At Serbia's request, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in October 2008 sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence was in accordance with international law. In a ruling considered unfavorable to Serbia, the ICJ issued an advisory opinion in July 2010 stating that international law did not prohibit declarations of independence. In late 2010, Serbia agreed to an EU-drafted UNGA Resolution acknowledging the ICJ's decision and calling for a new round of talks between Serbia and Kosovo, this time on practical issues rather than Kosovo's status. The EU-moderated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue began in March 2011 and was raised to the level of prime ministers in October 2012. [CIA Factbook]
In less than 25 years, probably within the lifetime of every person reading this email, the borders of many countries in this region changed violently, multiple times. It’s no wonder we keep asking, and getting different answers, “What language does this congregation/Roma community/person speak?”
Today we drive to Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia. Although the four of us travelers could have squeezed into one car, we had to take two cars because Liljana didn’t know the way to the church in Novi Sad. One more time we borrowed Daniel’s car (Liljana’s son). We joined the church secretary in Novi Sad for an incredible meal and interesting conversation at her church apartment in the early afternoon. It became even more fascinating when Dragon, the young pastor of the church, dropped in to chat. His English was not good, so Liljana translated. Dragon grew up in Jabuka (the city where we worshiped with the Roma congregation yesterday).
During the course of the conversation, we were asking him questions about his congregation and ministry, and he asked us about the purpose of our visit. I explained about our goal of preparing to teach at Mission u and the study on The Roma of Europe. His comments: “Many of my friends are Roma. We are equal before God.
It’s difficult to fight these prejudices, but it’s important to be persistent, doing what God teaches us to do.” It wasn’t until after we left that I learned that Dragon had married a Roma girl. When we asked about how important John Wesley was to the United Methodist Church in Serbia, Dragon put him just below Peter and Paul. We found a Wesley book on the shelf outside the sanctuary. I think the title translates, “The Only Way.” This is refreshing.
A walk around Novi Sad completed our time in that city and we hurried on our way -- late for dinner with Dr. Ana KunÄÂak-Palik, District Superintendent in Serbia. I’m so tired, I don’t know the name of the community where we are, but we’re in a relatively large meeting center owned by the UMC. For the first time we each have our own room. It feels like we’re eating our way across Serbia – very tasty food, haven’t eaten in a restaurant yet – with hospitality that has no off-switch. In the poorest of the three countries we visit, we’re finding extreme generosity. Everyone has turned in, preparing for a long day tomorrow. We’ll visit two places and work with a small group of Roma children in one of them.
The sound of rain is putting me to sleep. It has not rained here for weeks. Everybody welcomes it. Our time is drawing to a close.