Gateways’ connection with Bosnia goes back to when Julie Smart (1976) and then Betty Hills (1983) visited on outreach. In both 2000 and 2001 Gateways sent teams to Konjic to assist the local evangelical church in outreach via teaching English. Different members of our family were on both teams and during the second outreach, Zahir Šurković, who had a fledgling dairy operation, heard about Barry’s experience in the dairy industry and the two met. As a result, in 2002 and at Zahir’s invitation, the whole family moved to live in Bjelimići, a group of small villages in the mountains near Sarajevo, to work with the dairy factory. We returned to NZ at the end of 2005. (The factory has since closed down and we would like to see it re-opened so Barry has been working on a proposal for that.)
We maintained connection with the community over the intervening years and small Gateways teams began to return from 2013 to 2018. This month marks two years that we have been back in Bjelimići. Thus far our focus has been on re-establishing old relationships and fostering new ones in what is a unique farming community. Our location is fairly isolated but becoming less and less so, as roads are asphalted and the amount of traffic passing through our village, Odžaci, steadily increases.
As well, we are having to brush up on our proficiency in Bosnian, as much had been forgotten in the intervening years. We are able to discuss the weather and local news over coffee with neighbours, but explaining spiritual truths and God’s plan of salvation requires more careful learning to avoid mistakes. Another difficulty in the mountain villages is their use of a lot of Turkish words, remnants from when Bosnia was under the Ottomans.
There is now a small evangelical church in Konjic (one hour drive away) led by an Albanian couple and a young British woman. Because we are the only Christians in this community, we have been grateful and encouraged by having much stronger connections with other missionaries and churches than when we were here before.
As I write this, the call to prayer is sounding from the mosque at the end of our street. It is Ramadan; these people are perishing eternally for want of hearing the Gospel. Pray that we may proclaim it boldly as we ought, and with grammatically correct Bosnian!
Sadly, Marie passed away suddenly in August 2020. Barry has remained Odžaci to continue ministering to the people in that region.