"So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead."
James 2:17



by David J. Sheehan

The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us. (John 1:14)

How does the Word become Flesh and dwell among us today? God gave me the answer in June of this year.

In March, I received an invitation from St. David's Relief Foundation to participate as a volunteer for a water project in Bosnia. The task would be to work with the local villagers of Boderiste to install the main water line for a state-of-the-art water system. As I had pressing matters on the home front, I said "No" in my head when I received this invitation. Our Lady, in her quiet and persuasive way, let me know that she wanted me to go on this trip. I have learned in the past not to argue with Mama, so away I went, fully prepared to shovel dirt, sand, or whatever else I might step in for the honor of God and Our Lady. A knight could not have a higher calling.

We landed in Sarajevo, about 30 volunteers in all, with our Gray Friars of the Bronx as our stalwart companions and spiritual leaders. Since last year, Sarajevo's airport had changed from looking like a set from a 1940 Humphrey Bogart movie. It now has the trappings of a modern airport. This first glance of the new Bosnia was a sign of things to come. Our bus ride up to Boderiste retraced the route we had taken two years ago when I worked my first mission with St. David's doing roofing. Along the way, we noted new industries of lumbering, concrete, and construction springing up. The country had new life in it, and was moving away from the sad legacy of the war.

We arrived in the village of Boderiste late Monday night, June 11. Our meeting place, a local café/restaurant, was newly refurbished, and inside on the wall hung a 3' by 5' Texas Flag with the crucifix upon it. Christ and Texas; what an unbeatable combination! The mayor, Slavko Blazevic, soon had us parceled out to our hosts for the week. My joy was that I would be staying with Josyp, a young man who had his right leg damaged in the war by a mine. He and I had become good friends from my last visit. As the week progressed, his English became better, and my Croatian, well, let's just say it is a work-in-progress. The next day I was able to see the children of Boderiste. My, how they have grown in two years! Still unspoiled by the pleasures of modern life, they take pleasure in little things like ice cream and a quick game of football. Thank God, there is not a Gameboy in sight.

On Tuesday morning, I go to visit the grave of Stjepan Androsevic. St. David's has dedicated this trip to his memory. Stjepan, a veterinarian by trade, was a friend of mine and a great help to the mayor in the rebuilding of the village. He died untimely at the age of thirty-five last year of a heart attack. Stjepan always made us feel welcome with his warmth and sense of humor. Now I will say the rosary of the resurrection at his graveside. As I approach the gate of the village cemetery, I wonder how I will find his grave. God provides. A man riding by on a bike sees me. I try to talk to him first but make no headway as my Croatian is fit only for the deaf. Then, I draw out my notepad and begin to scribble. I only complete word "Stjepan" when he nods, stops me, opens the cemetery gate, and walks resolutely to Stjepan's final rest. He leaves me alone. The grave is still new. "Stjepan Androsevic, 1965-2000" is inscribed on a wooden cross. In time, it will have a granite headstone. I say my rosary and think of this kind man. His widow and two young children live in this village. Thank God they are surrounded by family. St. David's will take up a collection for them later in the week. For now, I am alone with my thoughts and rosary, but again with God we are never alone, and Stjepan lives, for all are alive in Him. (Luke 20: 38)

At the onset, it is apparent that the townspeople have the work well in hand and are out in force. For our part, we Americans fill in along the work line wherever we can be of use. It gives us the opportunity to work side by side with our Croat and Muslim brothers. Here, they do not fight but work together. I wish all of Bosnia would learn this lesson. The project is very simple. At the town center, there is going to be a modern filtration plant. Water from four local wells will be drawn to this plant, purified and then sent out the main line to feed water to the homes of the villagers. Our part this week is to get the main line installed throughout the village. A trenching machine first digs a trench about five feet deep and eighteen inches wide. After it passes by, we go into the trench, leveling it out as best as we can, then we put three inches of sand as a base for the pipe to rest on. The plastic pipe is 4 inches in diameter and deep blue in color. We have difficulty uncoiling the pipe, and a gang of us must pull on it as we stretch the pipe along the main road. Once we have it stretched out, we are able to place it into the trench, attaching each new section of pipe by using a cast iron collar and rubber gasket. With the pipe placed into the trench, we cover the top with eight inches of sand and then fill in the rest of the trench with the original dirt and clay. Not exactly rocket scientist work, but a future benefactor of mankind may drink from this water. And I think of Him, from Whom living waters flow. (John 7:37-38)

A typical workday for us is an early morning breakfast, Mass, work in the line, lunch, return to work in the afternoon, and the day ends when a tractor comes by to collect the shovels. The trencher proceeds ahead of us, blazing the trail. Wisely, we maintain Eucharistic Adoration during our sojourn. Without God, we can accomplish nothing. (John 15:5)

The villagers are kind and very patient with us. I had a conversation with one of the villagers as I told him the wonders of using spray paint to mark the spot in the street where the water junctions are. He smiled and nodded as I gave him this piece of advice, and then proceeded to inform me how they were using GPS (Global Positioning Satellites) technology to record all the nuances of the water system. Humbled as I was, I graciously accepted his offer of Rakija (plum brandy) later in the week when heavy rain canceled our work for the day. Whatever knowledge we bring with us and impart to the villagers, they teach us more by their example of how to live and what is really important in life.

At the end of the week, the main line has been completed. Our portion of the work is over for this year. The villagers will continue the project after we leave. In this week, we have been the beneficiaries – for we have learned from them the facts of life, death, and resurrection.

Saturday night, the villagers throw a party for all of us. Food and "refreshments" flow freely. It is a celebration not only of getting the main line installed, but celebrating the bond of work and friendship that have made us a part of their village. We started the week as guests and leave as family. Our departure Sunday morning is difficult. My friend Josyp asks me if I will be coming back next year. I reply that all of this is in God's hands. I cannot think of a safer place for our collective future.

We then leave for Medjugorje. I have much to think about. What really happened in that little village of Boderiste? What made that village able to recover so quickly from the war and now enjoy the fruits of its labor?

I believe that God's goodness and mercy are like kegs of rich wine. These people by their faith and trust in God were given the keys to God's storeroom. The first thing that they did after the war was to rebuild the Church. Our Lord took His place again in the tabernacle. He had never left them nor abandoned them. His throne in the tabernacle became the beating heart of the village. The Word made Flesh became Flesh again in the minds and hearts of the villagers. The impossible became possible. Homes were restored, families united, and love and life flowed back into the village like living water. Resurrection happened and Stjepan will be reunited again with his family in the mansion of the Most High.

And these good people did not forget His Mother, their Mother. At the foot of the altar in the village church, there is an icon, Mary, Mother of God, with her Child on her lap. Her large brown eyes captivate me. They are quizzical and yet hold a touch of her good-natured humor. In spite of my 48 years of age, I am a three-year-old boy in her presence; a little three-year-old boy who has been playing in the dirt all day. The mother has no choice but to hose down this child in the backyard and the child stands laughing in the shower of water and love, naked as a jaybird. His laughter becomes infectious and the mother, who was cross at having this additional chore to do, now catches the laughter of the child and begins to laugh herself. Only Our Lady makes me feel this way. Her icon beckoned me closer. Why come closer? My curiosity of a child gets the better of me and I do come closer and see she is motioning me to come to her Son and receive something. He is giving me His blessing. He is giving all of us His blessing and if we allow Him to, He will turn us back into children, changing us into the sons and daughters of the One Father, the Most High God.

He came to His own, and His own received Him not. But to all who did received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:11-14)

Receive Him today, become flesh of His flesh, bone of His bone, and let Him dwell among us again. Become a child again, a child playing in the palace of the Most High God. And He just might let you play in the dirt again, as He allowed me in the village of Boderiste!


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