ADRA & Sarajevo

peaceIn The Promise of Peace, Charles Scriven tells the story of Adventists supporting human life during the destruction in Sarajevo. Read the book to learn more about SDA history.

Serbs, Croats, and Muslims were in violent discord, and Bosnia was a rubble of broken hearts and dreams. Artillery and sniper fire, along with undependable roads and telephone lines, had isolated the three hundred thousand people in the Muslim-controlled section of Sarajevo, the capital.

It was 1992. That year the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, working with a tiny congregation, began hauling parcels of food into the most desperate section of the city. The food came mostly from refugee families trying to help their loved ones back home.

Word of the activity spread, and it wasn’t long until Serb, Croat, and Muslim volunteers, hundreds of them, were using imported trucks to maintain an informal postal service between Sarajevo and safer cities elsewhere….

The trucks could pass through the Serb-controlled outskirts of Sarajevo only if the Serbs permitted it. The whole operation depended, in fact, on the cooperation and goodwill of the warring factions. A newspaper reporter… asked how members of the Sarajevo Adventist congregation were able to sustain the necessary cooperation and goodwill.

The pastor [Milan Suslic] said they were “not part of any nationality or any side in the war”; they belonged “to the region, but not to the conflict.” He said, too, that the makeshift postal service was fending off every hint of violence. “If somebody found even one bullet in the convey,” he explained, “our work would be ruined.” And project leaders were putting constant effort into assuring the rival factions that the operation’s aim was to help all groups in Sarajevo. In his most telling remark, Pastor Suslic declared, “We are nobody’s and everybody’s.”

With these words, the pastor pictured a congregation that, in a world sundered by arrogance, would play no favorites and do no violence. For the purposes of their project, the congregation’s members saw themselves as a people for all peoples, a source of blessing but not of discord. They simply wished the divine will done on earth as it is in heaven. They were few, but they would defy the stranglehold of violence. They would live out–today–the ideals that the Second Coming would establish forever. (pp. 20-21)

Note: For more thoughts on violence and development work, I recommend these two books:

Reflection Questions:

  1. What do you think about congregations and denominations getting involved with situations of violence and injustice? What are potential risks and benefits? How is a cost/benefit analysis inadequate for this discussion?
  2. In a situation of injustice, where one side is oppressing the other, can neutrality or equal support of both parties prolong the injustice? In the words of Howard Zinn, can we be neutral on a moving train?
  3. In this particular situation in Sarajevo, which do you think would have been preferable–(a) supporting all parties as described, (b) searching for other ways to support only at-risk noncombatants though this would break neutrality and incite hostility from one or more communities, (c) remain on the sideline and preach about forgiveness, compassion, and love for all including one’s enemies, or (d) ____? Describe how you reached this conclusion. What values or issues are you prioritizing?
  4. What role did faith have in determining the self-identity of the various communities–SDA church members, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. What are the most salient determiners of my identity today? What are the consequences of this particular focus and identity?
  5. Do these themes have any connection to “normal life” outside of a war zone? What relevance might this discussion have for our daily lives?
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