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Just a bridge…

Nothing special draws attention to the narrow cobblestone Latin Bridge spanning the Miljacka River flowing through Sarajevo. Local Bosnian pedestrians bustle routinely across its four arches to and from the town centre. Trams rattle along the riverside, stopping at the bridge to exchange passengers. Other wider bridges up- and down-stream seem to be much more important, carrying cars and trucks across the river.

Only a broken-off sign reading “May peace…” at the city end of this bridge gives any clue to the world-shattering event that occurred here. For on 28 June 1914, a young Serbian nationalist waited in the shadows of the building across from the tramstop. As the royal carriage crossed the bridge, he seized his chance to assassinate the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. By the summer’s end, this shot ‘heard around the world’ had escalated into the First World War, embroiling Europe’s major powers in hellish trench warfare.

The consequences were hugely tragic. Over 65 million troops were mobilized on the western, eastern and Balkan fronts. Some came from as far as Australia and New Zealand, and eventually America, to fight at the Somme, in Flanders and at Gallipolli. Nine million were killed; over 20 million wounded. War weariness on the eastern front catalysed the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Seven ensuing decades of communism caused millions more deaths. Post-war debt and disillusionment led to the Great Depression and eventually to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and the outbreak of World War Two, followed by the Cold War…

And the whole bloody trail began right there by the tramstop!

Last week I stood on this same corner watching the ebb and flow of locals seemingly oblivious to the role this bridge had played in ushering in history’s most violent century. (Living with the scars of more recent violence was more likely to be on their minds. Just upstream, the boarded-up windows of the arabesque National Library bore silent testimony to the senseless bombardment of the Serbian heavy artillery that beseiged this city for three years. Downstream, I could see the fire- gutted silhouette of the former parliament building. In between was Sniper’s Alley where Sarajevo’s residents had run the daily gauntlet en route to work.)

I found myself musing about the Chaos Theory – you know, the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can cause a storm in Africa. Was the 1914 assassination an early-century illustration of this late-century concept? One death that led to millions of others thousands of miles away from this spot?

Whatever the case, there was also a positive application of that idea. In fact, the reason I was in Sarajevo was to share that perspective with the students of the second Bosnian Discipleship Training School. I call it the Faithful Minority view of history: that God works through faithful minorities to make a disproportionate impact on history; and that the flow of history depends on the obedience or disobedience of God’s people.

Most of the students were Bosniac, Serb or Croat, representing the three battling parties of the Bosnian conflict. They came from Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic backgrounds, different sides of the ancient East-West fault line which runs right up through Sarajevo and Bosnia, dividing the Balkans since the Great Schism of 1054. At the root of this century’s conflicts in the Balkans has been spiritual division. Who can repair this rift? The UN? The EU? Nato? No, a fundamentally spiritual problem needs a spiritual solution.

About two weeks ago, a mile or two upstream from the Latin Bridge, thirteen former muslims professed their faith in Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism. Two of them were students in the DTS.

Nothing special would have drawn attention to these students and their newly-made friends in their upper room classroom, as local Bosnian pedestrians bustled routinely along the road outside. Yet on the other hand, there may just be a quiet revolution in the making….

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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