It’s been a while since I’d last posted news. That, of course, doesn’t mean that we were idle all this time. The truth is that, besides “ordinary” church activities, we have had three bigger projects that ended pretty much around the same time.
This time, I would like to share with you some information about the Vacation Bible School – VBS – that we had in Berane in the last week of June. For this purpose, we have had a team from Centreville Baptist Church who prepared an amazing program for us.
The VBS last only for 3 days, with program – music, fun activities, sports, arts & crafts, Bible stories – being conducted in the mornings, afternoon of the second day, many visitations and great opportunities to talk to the people, build the relationships and share the Word.
As you will can see in these photos, the smiling faces of children, their joy and laughter were so rewarding to us! We enjoyed every single day and every single activity, since all of the kids were so engaged and participative.
However, there was something else that happened which we did not experienced before – persecution! It happened on the afternoon of a second day when we were conducting a program at the Roma community across the river. The program started with many children, women and men present and carefully watching. Suddenly, a group of young men came and started shouting, cussing (us and Jesus), provoking and threatening. After the initial shock, we continued the program like nothing happened, while our hosts – both women and men, including local imam – stood to our defense. The group was eventually silenced and we did the program to the end. Still, the atmosphere that was in the beginning had changed and the tension was still in the air.
Eventually, we’d left, but it was only then that the conflict between the people started, with close cousins being on the opposite sides. One side was defending our right to be there, while other thought that we had no business in their Muslim neighborhood. The outcome of this conflict was not what we expected. Although our hosts defended us fiercely, the cost for them was too high. They got afraid on how this would affect their families in the future so they asked us to pause with our activities on that side of the river. Things did get improved the next morning, when imam and boys’ father came to apologize, begging us not to report what happened to the authorities. Yet, the question of continuing the activities on their side of the river remained unclear.
This incident and the whole situation that came out right after has been a valuable lesson to us. It only showed us how fragile is every arrangement we make with the local Roma communities if they are affected with the virus of radical Islam. And that is exactly what happened here. Although we went according to the unwritten rules of the Roma and respectfully approached the elders in the community and asked for their approval before we established our presence, the small group of radicals is capable of destroying it in a single moment.
The two young men who started the incident are the relatives of an imam of a biggest and the most influential Roma mosque in Belgium. He is one of the people who are behind the movement that has spread across the Roma-Ashkali/Egyptian communities in Montenegro and beyond. The truth is that a number of Roma and Ashkali/Egyptians from Kosovo and Macedonia who immigrated to Western Europe did not and could not identify with Western European freedom, lifestyle and values. Instead, they got closer to the groups and communities that they found to be more alike for their appearance, religion, way of life, immigrant background, conservative values – groups such as the Turks, Moroccans, Pakistanis, Arabs, etc. With that, they’d also adopted their view of Islam, and started living and acting alike. More and more of them started wearing traditional Middle-Eastern robe for men, going to Mecca for hajj, while women started wearing niqabs and hijabs, stopped shaking hands with men, etc. Finally, upon their return to the Balkans, they would spread their new, intolerant, beliefs to the local Roma-Ashkali/Egyptian communities, often shaming their inhabitants into becoming better Muslims. Finally, with the financial backing of Roma jamaats from Belgium, Germany and other places, they started financing humanitarian and religious activities in communities in Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia.
Please pray for continuation of the ministry in Berane. It is unclear how this situation will unfold and what kind of repercussions it may have on the ministry in the refugee camp across the river. What we would certainly like to avoid is that the same thing happens there. In that case, we would have to involve the authorities, but that could mean breaking up of the relationships we were building so carefully.
This incident also demonstrated the lack of resilience of the Roma-Ashkali/Egyptian communities and their traditional ways to the new challenges imposed by radical Islam. Living by the principle of “path of least resistance”, the Roma-Ashkali/Egyptian communities do not always have the capacity of dealing with the radical forms of behaviour within their own communities. Instead, there is a tendency of making compromises, which are not always the healthy ones.
Please pray that the Lord protects us from such solutions and helps us by keeping the door open for preaching of the Gospel. Pray that the relationships we built appear strong enough to endure this kind of challenge. Also pray that our faith is stronger than occasional setbacks and trials. Pray for His vision and boldness to remain in our hearts and in front of our eyes.