It’s good to be back home with Stephanie and Jack after an amazing trip.
Peace Catalyst friend and mentor, David Vidmar, and I went to Bosnia for 6 days (May 7-12) and spent a lot of time meeting with and listening to Christian religious leaders, imams, and peacemaking nonprofits. Our hope was to determine whether there could be next steps for us (the Careys) to work as Peace Catalyst staff in partnership with a local organization in Bosnia, and whether there was space for us as American Protestant Christians to genuinely help in peacemaking efforts going on in the region. (For a quick background of the conflict, go here.)
During our time there, many affirmed and encouraged us that because the principal tensions in the region are among Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox groups, as Protestants, we could serve as a neutral bridge to help build trust and promote dialogue and peace between different religious leaders and communities. Overall, the welcome we experienced and excitement people had about us moving to the area was overwhelming! We’re excited to take a few more trips, individually and as a family, to ask more questions and make more concrete plans.
We have a lot to process and follow up on, but here are some of the highlights:
Most thought-provoking moment: Our AirBnb host, a local London-educated imam, shared that political leaders of each ethnic and religious group in Bosnia tend to manipulate religious groups to serve their own “nationalistic agendas.” Because of this, and the fact that religion has been tied to nationalistic violence, many are suspicious of religion, even while religion is still a huge motivator and source of identity for most. So, although the situation in Bosnia is complex, our host and others we met with affirmed that “interfaith dialogue is the principal need in Bosnia.” In other words, because religion has been such a divisive force, there is a great need for religious leaders to begin to promote understanding and love-of-neighbor in their congregations.
Deepest connection: One friend invited us to his weekly Islamic small group (above). Afterwards, he told us how deeply the time together had impacted a young imam in the group, who was challenged and blessed by the common ground we built as well as the way we engaged in respectful conversation about differences.
Celebrity-crush moment: World-renowned Christian scholar and author, David Shenk (below, in the middle), happened to be visiting Sarajevo to lead a peacemaking seminar at a local church during our visit. We were able to attend and then have dinner together afterwards!
Best view: On a rare afternoon off, we hiked up above the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics bobsled run and summited Trebovic, which gave us beautiful vistas of Sarajevo and the surrounding countryside.
Most sobering moments: Listening to personal stories of survivors and visiting the Srebrenica memorial honoring the over 8,000 genocide victims was overwhelming – it felt impossible to begin to make sense of or begin to feel the magnitude of the ongoing pain of so many. We also had the chance to listen to a Serb peacemaker who shared about the rejection she has experienced from her own community as she empathizes with Bosniak women who’ve been left as childless widows.
Most inspirational moment: This Muslim Bosniak peacemaking activist (below) shared Bosnia’s recent history from the perspective of an Orthodox Serb. While most of the Western world sees Serbs as perpetrators, he powerfully shared about how Serbs have also suffered as victims of atrocities. Everyone, he argued, needs space to hear others’ stories and time to heal.
In spite of suffering as a refugee and concentration camp survivor, these two imams shared about how their faith helped them move beyond their hate to begin building peace with Serb and Croat neighbors. The joy and humor of these modern day Good Samaritans were infectious.
Although this was an amazing first trip listening and learning, we still have a long way to go before making concrete plans to move to Bosnia. While David and I had the chance to meet with several Protestant pastors and numerous Muslim Bosniaks, it will be essential to balance our experience by learning from and hopefully building relationships with Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs from the outset. Most importantly and in conversation with Peace Catalyst’s leadership, we will need to discern the best partner organization from which we can obtain sponsorship for our residency (our visas) and with which we can learn and work.