In 1984, all the peoples of Yugoslavia united to host the XIVth Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. They were, after all, citizens of a nation that drew strength from its multi-ethnic population. Those who cheered together, became enemies in civil war as, in less than a decade, all those political and cultural expressions of unity disintegrated. Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian tensions erupted into open warfare in 1992, tearing the nation apart. Reports of violence during the summer of 1992 were at first hard to believe. Victims described harassment and torture, mass killings and deportations, the burning of villages and towns, and random sadistic cruelty.
The three-year war of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia left the country in utter ruin. More than half the homes lay destroyed, roads and bridges are in disrepair, and businesses have been shut down. Several hundred thousand Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs fled from their homes and communities because of violence and intimidation. Now the international community has taken the role of peace-keeper and stabilized the country, but masses of refugees and displaced persons remain outside the country wanting desperately to return.
Will time ever erase the memories of this genocide?
Since July 1997, our teams in Bosnia have heard the agonizing stories out of the mouths of nearly every person they've met. Hopelessness and despair abound. Although the situation seems so bleak and overwhelming, we believe with God's help there is potential for hope and peace to return.
In 1997 Impact Teams International successfully repatriated the first minority refugees since the war. Thousands of Serb minorities now live back in their own homes. Many more are desiring to return in the coming months.
Our goals for Operation Emmaus were to:
- Accompany minority returnees to their original homes.
- Assist returnees in repairing and refurbishing their homes.
- Create an atmosphere of confidence and security among the minority returns and to help ease their reintegration into the majority community.
Some observations of our staff in this ministry of reconciliation:
"The faces around the table are strained and weary. Each person knows the other has problems much the same as their own...As the visit ends, the man says, "A Croat family and a Serb family talking here together. This is a historic moment."
"My naive feet stepped into a land where continents collide, cultures crash and religions struggle to choke one another. A land with passionate people who love and murder easily, and have a splendid talent to start wars...As darkness grew, a small, powerful spark pierced through and sang to me: "There is enough light in God to put out all the darkness of the world; a new world can be created out from a very small light...YOU!"
"When you sit down to talk to the people, they all bow their heads knowing that they are all to blame...Bosnia has shown me the need for forgiveness, grace, mercy, but most of all childlike dependence on God."
John R. Moritz