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



by Pat Pope

The new millennium marked my third time to accompany the Work Camp of St. David's Relief Foundation to Bosnia. For the past two years, Mr. Jeff Reed, Executive Director of St. David's, led groups of Americans to the northeastern corner of Bosnia – within a stone's throw of Serbia – to an area of rich farmlands, rolling hills and the warm, hospitable people of the tiny village of Boderiste.

This year, Jeff took us to a village in an area of Bosnia that could rival any in Europe, or any other continent for that matter, for its enchanting beauty. The name of this village is Guca Gora.

Each morning as we gathered at various work sites, we walked past an 800-year-old Franciscan monastery and church. The St. Francis Monastery is located at such a vantagepoint as to be able to be seen from any of the surrounding mountains. This range of mountains runs all the way to Sarajevo and beyond, and hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. (That Olympics represented my first recollection of what was then called Yugoslavia.) The monastery is squarely perched to overlook a deep valley where each morning the mist of the night is held captive until the hot sun releases it to the sky, only for it to return in the afternoon as refreshing summer showers.

Just above the church is a small, fertile plateau. One magical afternoon, some of us were privileged to watch the harvest of a farmer's hay. What made this ordinary task extraordinary was that here, in this most modern of times, we watched the contrast as one man cut hay with a hand-held sickle while another used a pitchfork to hoist the yield onto a wagon being routinely drawn by two noble steeds. The grace to which this timeless motion unfolded was almost overwhelming.

Surrounded by all this bucolic splendor, I none-the-less sensed a feeling of foreboding that was pervasive, inexplicable. That is, until early one morning when a slight mishap quickened my senses as a man from an opposing village caused me to have to seek refuge in the bushes to avoid being hit by his car. It was at this moment that I realized what I was responding to – the lack of resolution. The tension in this almost indescribably beautiful region of the world is so thick that it casts shrouds of darkness.

Why are the looks between neighbors so suspicious, the caution so evident, the school segregated, and the threat of renewed fighting in the back of everyone's minds? The answer is not simply because there had been a war here. The people of Guca Gora and surrounding villages had been embroiled in the worst of all wars – CIVIL WAR.

For multi-faceted and complicated reasons, the initial war efforts launched by united Muslim and Christian forces against the Serbs stalemated. Then, extremist Muslim groups infiltrated the Bosnian Muslim camps turning neighbor against neighbor. The bloodbath began. Being sorely outnumbered, the Christian population of the Guca Gora region took the brunt of the carnage. The stories of atrocities are so gruesome that I remain unsettled; not only by what was told but also by vivid pictorial accounts of what actually happened.

What is potentially most disturbing about this human tragedy is the fear that, with each passing year, the memory of those who have contributed so much to St. David's will grow dim. The heroic deeds of the courageous people of Bosnia will be forgotten. How very great the need for assistance remains.

The situation is as prophetic as the quote, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". This will be a chilling reality if interest wanes and contributions subside.

St. David's Relief Foundation has accomplished what governments and heavyweight (and heavily staffed) traditional relief organizations cannot. For the most part, container shipments are sent from the U.S. to Split and then sent to a warehouse in Medugorje. It is the Franciscans who decide where the relief supplies are to be distributed. Rest assured every nail, every shingle, every jar of baby food is accounted for. Therefore, contributions are direct, intermediaries are virtually non-existent, and the fruits of our generosity are visibly evident.

I wish (and hope) more Americans will come to see and feel Bosnia. The absence of resolve in this land could be overcome if more of the everyday people of our big-hearted country would come and experience first hand an inkling of what these courageous people have been through.

While to see the aftermath of the horrors of war is devastating, to see the resilience of the human spirit of the local people and to witness those volunteers from distant lands who hear and respond to the call of their fellow man makes it impossible to ignore God's loving presence in Bosnia (and in America).

By the way, what are you doing next summer?


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