Friday, March 30, 2007

From a Hillside in Herzegovina

I celebrated Mother's Day in the warmth of a Bosnian spring sun. Sometimes I find it hard to be away from family during holidays and crisis, but I praise God for the privilege and opportunity to share with His “family” and countless children around the world. After church, CARE EE and friends drove off for the Roma (gypsy) village, home to many of those in the worship service. We were driving into the mountains for an hour when we turned up the dirt road leading to the village. The young man with us, asked if I had seen such a “road” before. I had to laugh - I have seen MANY such roads that are hardly roads.

The village makes money by collecting iron and steel, burning and cleaning it and then reselling it for cash. You cannot imagine the piles and piles of old cars, pipes, tires, broken refrigerators and machinery, anything that was once something - now waiting for the inferno to turn them into a cash commodity. It was hard to negotiate through the men young and old on the roadside, kindling fires of all sizes, and avoid killing the wide variety of chickens, goats, cows, dogs and cats that casually crossed our narrow path without fear.

We arrived at the top of the hill, and at the end of the road stood a house (sort of). Like many structures in third world countries, half of it is finished, and the rest is waiting for funds or families or furniture. Of course our approaching vehicle caused quite the stir, stirring up more than dust as we got out of the car. Not so curiously, CARE EE caused a crowd immediately, and the children hurried to open the door and let the stranger out into their midst. What would I bring them, why was I there? Some spoke enough English to say “what is your name?” “My name is...” “How are you?”

When CARE EE answered - grins broke out across their faces, laughter erupted and happiness was widespread. Their grins were a mixture of broken, missing and decaying teeth. But they were grins none the less. Their clothes, were not much more than rags, only a few wore shoes, and they were often oversized, mismatched hand-me-downs barely staying on to protect their small feet. Their hair had most likely not been combed this week (or month), and as for baths, the dirt that covered them, covered them! And while this sad physical state exists among these gypsy children, they are still children. They are still laughing, smiling, and having fun playing the “King and Queen” in the stories I tell. And, through the work of two dedicated Finnish missionaries committed to living in this former war zone - they ALL know about Jesus!

As I told the story of redemption high on the hill, overlooking an impoverished landscape more like a series of junkyards than a village for humans to reside - I asked questions to the wide-eyed crowd. “Do you know who the baby in the manger is?” “JESUS” they yelled back enthusiastically. “Do you know who calmed the sea in the boat?” “JESUS” they laughed wondering why I would ask questions with such an obvious answer. “Do you know why the cross points the way to heaven?” “Because He died for our sins!” they smiled.

“On a hill far away....” there is knowledge of the old rugged cross. There are children who know, who trust, who believe in the Name of Jesus. There are illiterate parents who learn of the Savior because their children come home from Bible lessons and tell of His love. There is hope in a place where hope is forged in the fires, because they know there really is only One hope that saves. It may not save them from poverty, it may not remove them from the pit of forged found-ironwork around them, it did not save them from being caught in a war, but it will save them in the end.

Praise God for THIS indescribable gift! As Paul wrote to those back home in Jerusalem “brothers I want you to know what is going on in the field.” I write to you. I want you to know what YOU are a part of. Some through financial gifts, some through prayers, but all will share in the Harvest of souls in the joy shared and the love brought to this hill! We are ONE in the body of Christ.