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United Methodist volunteers see war’s effects in Bosnia

 


United Methodist volunteers see war’s effects in Bosnia

Sept. 8, 2004

A UMNS News Feature
By Linda Bloom*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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.
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.

Despite 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 devastation.

For 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.

The 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 Service.

Even 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.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Bill Phillips
United Methodist volunteers mix concrete for living quarters and a barn they are building in Gubin, Bosnia.
"The whole village was burned during the war," she said. "There was not a roof left when people started to come back."

Gregory’s 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.

She 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.

Bill Phillips, Gregory’s husband, said he hopes their experience will encourage other church groups to do similar projects in Bosnia.

"Seeing 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."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Pat McNichols
The Rev. Amy Gregory visits with village children in Gubin, Bosnia.
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."

The 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.

According 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 sustainability inputs."

McNichols 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.

Deborah 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 explained.

Alan 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."

When 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.

About 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 explained.

When 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.

Once the home/barn structures are finished, the two women will be eligible to purchase a cow, through an UMCOR grant, to generate income.

Other members of the volunteer group were Scott Laverty and Phil Hill, a friend of Phillips and member of Christ United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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