Sept. 8, 2004
A UMNS News Feature
By Linda Bloom*
Working in a small
Bosnian village, a group of United Methodist volunteers got a firsthand
glimpse this summer of the long-term effects of war.
|A UMNS photo by Bill Phillips
Dosta Pajcin helps United Methodist volunteers who are building living quarters and a barn for her and a friend.
the village’s ruined buildings, lack of electricity and running water,
and dire economic situation, the nine-member team from East Avenue
United Methodist Church in Norwalk, Conn., was able to look beyond the
Pat McNichols, staying in Gubin - located in the Livno Valley, about
four hours from Sarajevo - allowed for a much closer connection with the
village residents. "I think it would have lost something if we had gone
back to a hotel every night for a hot shower," he said.
East Avenue group worked on buildings that provide both a barn and
living space for two elderly women. The group had assistance from the
United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Volunteers in Mission program
of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and Church World
though the two women, Dosta Pajcin and Jovanka Juric, had returned to
the village some time ago, they were living under very poor conditions,
according to the Rev. Amy Gregory, East Avenue pastor.
"The whole village was burned during the war," she said. "There was not a roof left when people started to come back."
|A UMNS photo by Bill Phillips
United Methodist volunteers mix concrete for living quarters and a barn they are building in Gubin, Bosnia.
involvement with Bosnia began 10 years ago, when her home church in
upstate New York sponsored two families that were fleeing the war in
Bosnia. Serb, Croat and Muslim factions fought one another in the bloody
conflict, which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. By the time it
ended in 1995, the war had caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands
and forced displacement of more than 60 percent of the people.
decided to combine a visit to relatives of these families with a
mission experience and looked for a project near their village of
Glamoc. Members of her congregation expressed interest in going and
raised $12,500 for the project through car washes, dinners, a talent
show, benefit concert and contributions.
Phillips, Gregory’s husband, said he hopes their experience will
encourage other church groups to do similar projects in Bosnia.
firsthand the devastating effects of war and how long it takes to
rebuild lives and homes left a deep impression on our group," he added.
"Bosnia has fallen out of our national consciousness, but as we
witnessed, there is still great need - especially in these more rural
villages like Gubin."
Because their friends
in Glamoc are Muslim, Gregory and Phillips weren’t expecting to get
assigned to a Serb village. "It just reminded us that everyone is a
victim in war," Phillips said. "These people were in just as much need."
|A UMNS photo by Pat McNichols
The Rev. Amy Gregory visits with village children in Gubin, Bosnia.
United Methodist Committee on Relief began work in Bosnia and
Herzegovina in 1993, opening an office in Zenica. That office was moved
to Sarajevo in early 1998. Current field offices are in Banja Luka,
Bratunac, Kupres, Modrica, Mostar and Visegrad.
to the agency’s Web site, current projects "continue to build upon
UMCOR’s extensive experience in promoting minority return and
reconciliation through shelter and repatriation activities, community
development, infrastructure rehabilitation and provision of
got involved because his 15-year-old daughter, Erin, wanted to go on
the mission trip. Another 15-year-old, Brittany Tortorella, also joined
the group. "I just knew that this trip was going to change the way I
look at things back here," she said.
Dayton, a church member who had been employed as a government relief
worker, decided the trip "was a great opportunity to get my hand back in
it." She was particularly proud of the contributions of the two
teenagers. "The girls pitched in, no matter how tired they were," she
Carpenter thought the Bosnia project "would be a great adventure." But
his previous mission trips had not been on the frontlines. With this
experience, he said, he could see clearly "the devastation and hardship
that comes from war."
the United Methodists arrived in Sarajevo at the end of July, they were
met by Fritz Buljubasic, an UMCOR staff member there. They hired a
local contractor, Radovan, as the "master builder" on the project. Their
translator, Dragan, was a 37-year-old soccer referee.
six children also were visiting the village for the summer with their
families. Blowing bubbles and pulling out coloring books helped break
the ice. "They were originally very timid with us, so it was great to
see them open up over the course of time we were there," McNichols
the volunteers had to leave after nine days of work, about two weeks of
construction time remained to finish the floors and put roofs on the
two buildings. The group left resources to enable a local crew to
complete the task.
the home/barn structures are finished, the two women will be eligible
to purchase a cow, through an UMCOR grant, to generate income.
members of the volunteer group were Scott Laverty and Phil Hill, a
friend of Phillips and member of Christ United Methodist Church in St.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.