approach to partnerships in Bosnia

Peace Catalyst International (PCI) staff have traveled to Bosnia for learning trips and have significant relationships with Bosnians involved in peace building work there. However, PCI has not vetted potential organizations to the degree that is needed to launch an official partnership. Vetting organizations and identifying commonalities and distinctives are incredibly important in PCI’s processes as it looks to expand its work internationally. So this year, we are focusing on getting to know the landscape of the various religious communities involved in peace building and the non-profit sector in Bosnia before we identify partner organization(s) and a sponsor for our residency.

So far, I’ve had one trip to Bosnia with a Peace Catalyst mentor and friend, David Vidmar. Later this month, I’ll be headed back for some follow-up meetings and networking. Then, in the fall, our family will stay in Bosnia for a couple of months with the hopes of moving there in the spring.

The primary purpose of my initial trip with David was to meet interfaith peace builders and ask whether there might be opportunities for Peace Catalyst staff to learn from and contribute to local interfaith peace building efforts. As an organization, Peace Catalyst International is interested in expanding its work to learn internationally, specifically in the Balkans and in Israel/Palestine. We know we can learn a great deal from the vast experience those who live in Bosnia, but we wanted to know if we could help in their efforts as American Christians. During our time, 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 between religious leaders and communities (for more, check out this trip reflection). Overall, David and I were encouraged and challenged by amazing peacemakers with whom we may have opportunities to collaborate in the future.

Over the next few months, I’ll be taking at least one and possibly several more trips to Bosnia to develop more relationships with potential partner organization and religious communities. I’ve already had a great opportunity to learn from Muslim religious leaders and Bosniaks who are doing either interfaith or non-religious peace building work. I also hope to have the opportunity to meet with Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb leaders and peace builders to learn from them. The situation in Bosnia is complex, which has resulted in a great deal of mistrust between each ethnic and religious community. So in order for us to have a better understanding of interfaith peace building organizations’ reputations and effectiveness, we must hear perspectives from each of the three ethno-religious communities and spend considerable time with as many of them as we can before we consider long-term partnerships.

Stephanie, Jack, and I will also stay in Bosnia later this year as a family to spend a decent chunk of time learning about the life and practices of different religious communities and the challenges and successes in the peace building nonprofit world, specifically with interfaith peace building efforts. We’ll also do normal “life” things like learn about daily living in Bosnia, find our way around Sarajevo, and begin navigating the medical and school systems.

As we meet with new religious leaders and peace makers in Bosnia, we introduce ourselves as Protestant Christians and pass our Peace Catalyst business cards. So even though we’ll be partnering with Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox individuals and groups, we will be representing Protestant Christianity, U.S. churches, and ideally and eventually, a local Protestant Church in Bosnia as we participate in interfaith peace building efforts. Over time, we hope to understand better the ways in which a PCI partnership with Bosnian churches could be a blessing to both the local church and the wider community.

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