By Kathy Eikost. Kathy Eikost is a part of the Alliance team in Sarajevo that works in the Izvor center. This is an article that appeared in the December issue of aLife magazine. See the box to the right to see how you can receive aLife magazine for free.
Zora ("Dawn" in Bosnian) could be on a "least-of-these" poster. She’s someone you might walk by on the streets without seeing. If you take the time to look, you’ll see eyes that have almost given up hope.
The Bosnian civil war ended 15 years ago, but the country is still struggling to get on its feet. There are no inspirational leaders rising to the top as Tito did after World War II. No one seems to have a plan big enough to encompass the whole country, although many politicians have plans for their own constituents or inner circle. Unemployment stubbornly hovers around 40 percent, and millions live hand to mouth. In a country of only 4 million, this is easily the majority. Those who are working have extended family in dire need and take responsibility to help however they can.
There are many new buildings in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital), but closer inspection reveals that storefronts are empty and condos have not been sold. In each case a developer came up with the money to build but did not think through to the other side of the equation. Red tape and corruption make Bosnia one of the most difficult places to start a small business. With such high unemployment rates, few families have the means to buy a condo or rent a luxury apartment.
Like many middle-aged people in Sarajevo, Zora is a civil war victim who has fallen through the cracks. Employers consider Zora, now in her fifties, too old to be hired, and she doesn’t qualify for the meager financial assistance available to people who are disabled, laid-off or over 65. Her extended family is not in a position to help, and she won’t beg since she retains the self-respect and pride that characterizes many people in her situation.
Although Zora has a house to live in, her electricity and water were shut off years ago because she cannot pay the bills. Her children are grown and gone, so she fends for herself the best she can by recycling things she finds in dumpsters. Beer bottles and soda cans bring a few coins. A certain-sized jar can be sold to beekeepers for honey storage.
She doesn’t understand the politics that destroyed her beloved city. She had a much better life before the war and seems bewildered at how her life came to this.
We met Zora when she was recommended for a monthly food packet. A Dutch organization gives the Evangelical Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina aid in the form of food boxes. Our congregation in Ilidza (a suburb of Sarajevo) sponsors 10 families each year. In addition to food, participants receive clothing and an invitation to a weekly coffee time. There, they get to know church members and are able to talk about their lives and problems. Members listen to, advise and pray for the participants.
Naturally, an invitation is extended to attend our worship services. Many participants have come a couple of times out of a sense of obligation. But Zora was different. In addition to Sunday services, Zora came faithfully to the Alpha course, which covers the basics of Christianity.
The light had not yet gone completely out of Zora’s eyes. A kind word and handshake would bring a smile and a hopeful glance. She soaked up love and human contact like a parched garden that had lain fallow far too long. She seemed embarrassed about her physical condition at first but was soon put at ease by the sincere love and friendship offered by ladies at the church. Many of them have been in similar situations and can empathize with Zora.
Our little church in Ilidza doesn’t have much money; the 15 members can barely cover its expenses. In fact, the Great Commission Fund paid the church’s rent for the first few years. But the members gave Zora what they had. She was invited to do laundry at the church and to use the shower as often as she liked. The manager of the church’s second-hand store set aside articles she felt would be useful to Zora and offered them at a deeply discounted price. Church members saved bottles and jars for Zora and brought blankets and sheets from home to help her out. She was invited to take vegetables from the church’s community garden to supplement her diet.
In May 2011 it was time for us to return to the United States for home assignment. We wondered whether Zora would still be attending the church when we returned a year later or if she would drift away as so many others had. Our Sarajevo-based team of international workers is small. When we left for home assignment, there were only four adults remaining to continue the work, three of whom were nearing the end of language study.
One is far enough along to be able to preach occasionally in Bosnian. Recently, he preached on prayer and led the congregation in a time of listening to God. Our elder’s wife felt impressed to talk to Zora.
"What is keeping you from accepting Christ as your Savior?" she asked.
"Nothing," Zora replied. The elder explained the gospel to her, and she received Christ that same day.
The glimmer of hope in Zora’s eyes has become the radiance of one who walks in the light. Instead of wondering whether Zora will be in church, we can’t wait to see what beautiful fruit is growing in a life that was parched and fallow.