A VIDEO WAR WAS WAGING IN THE BALKANS LAST WEEK WHILE THE WORLD WAS TRANSFIXED BY EVENTS IN ENGLAND AND LEBANON. Serbian television fired the first shots by airing video footage from 1995 ostensibly showing Croatian and Bosnian soldiers executing Serbian citizens and setting Serbian villages on fire. Bosnian and Croat officials heatedly denied the authenticity of the videos, dismissing what they called ‘efforts at spreading the guilt of war crimes’. The Bosnian president notched the tension up further by declaring that the Serbian region of Bosnia would not prosper “because it was built on genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing”.
Clearly there’s one fact no one denies: little reconciliation has taken place in the Balkans over the past decade.
Serbia is widely regarded as a pariah state in Europe. She has failed to cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in the arrest of alleged war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, believed still to be somewhere in Serbian territory. In June the citizens of Montenegro voted to dissociate their mountainous state from Serbia. No long-term solution for Kosovo’s relationship with Serbia has emerged. The problem is passed like a hot potato from diplomat to diplomat. Nobody knows what to do.
Mission activity in Serbia has been at a low ebb for years, since the Kosovo war. Few agencies, including YWAM, have reestablished ministries operating before that time. In the ’90’s, YWAM teams ministered up and down Serbia with music bands and evangelistic activities, setting up outreach cafes and youth fellowships. I was speaking at a Discipleship Training School in Nis in 1998, when my wife called from Holland to ask about the situation there. Dutch television had reported incidents on the Kosovo border with Serbia threatening to spark off new hostilities. Full scale military operations followed shortly thereafter, and our non-Serbian staff had to dash to the Macedonian border after American rockets targeted factories in Nis.
Evangelicals in Serbia are also worried about a controversial new religion law rushed through the National Assembly just before the Serbian Easter holiday. The law requires churches outside of seven ‘traditional’ faiths to reapply for legal status and pay property taxes. This includes Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Methodists, Adventists and others who have worked in Serbia for decades. The Serbian Orthodox Church is not taxed and is partly funded by the government, Some fear this signals the beginning of an official Serbian state church. A Ministry of Religion report claimed that the law was “agreed by all churches, religious communities and other religious communities in Serbia”. But many church leaders deny ever having seen the text or having been consulted on its content.
Many NGOs, religious communities and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission are highly critical of the law. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sees the law as contravening the European Convention on Human Rights, which Serbia has signed. Zdravko Sordjan of the Belgrade-based Centre for Tolerance and Inter-religious Relations believes the law will deepen the gulf between religious communities which already existed: “We are afraid this will be the beginning of persecution of the smaller religious communities, mainly those with a Protestant and Evangelical orientation.”
So how to respond to Serbia’s current sense of entrenchment, isolation and rejection?
Frankly, we don’t really know. But we have a saying in YWAM – “when you don’t know what to do, you always know what to do: pray!”
That’s why Carmelita Clarke, YWAM’s regional director for Central Europe, is calling for a ‘Serbian Reconciliation Prayer Walk’ next month, September 17-27. Open to all interested, the Walk will begin in Belgrade with introductions and orientation. Teams then will travel out to pray in various locations in Serbia itself, including Nis and Uzice. After reporting back to Belgrade and further reorientation, prayer teams will travel on to Pristina in Kosovo and Srebrenica in Bosnia.
Can anything really be accomplished in the real world of politics and military force simply through prayer? That certainly is the worldview of the Bible: from David (Ps. 20:7-some trust in chariots…) to James (5:16-the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective). It should be ours too. You can contact Carmelita at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The next two weeks I’m at YWAM’s Global Leadership Team meetings in England. So, till September 4,