Since my recent interview aired on local TV, I have gotten a few questions from friends and acquaintances around town. They usually mention they saw the interview, and then their face becomes a bit confused and they say something like, “all of us are trying to leave this place. Why would an American want to leave their own country and come here?”
I usually say something like “well that is a long story.” But like most things, there’s more to it than that.
I have a close friend who is a police officer and I often tell him I don’t understand how he can do his job. I know I would never be able to chase criminals around in a car every day.
But over the years I’ve realized, just like a pastor has a “higher calling”, police work is his calling. He’s uniquely equipped to do his work, and he is good at it. That’s a good enough reason as any.
As I ride my bike to my office, organize events, and make strategies to reach out to young people every day, I feel a similar sense of calling to this place. It may not be a perfect place, but I have become “good” at what I do, and I have skills that uniquely equipped me to do what I do. This is my calling — perhaps not forever, but certainly for this period in my life.
The grass is never greener
I often tell people here that Americans say “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence”. I have to be careful here, because I don’t want to belittle the problems that people face everyday in my current location. Corruption, disrespect for the rule of law, and economic depression prevent thousands of normal people here from leading productive lives. I don’t mean to diminish that fact.
However, few people in eastern Europe understand the level violence and danger that Americans live with every day. I can remember being in our church in Fayette County, GA, the day after a robbery at a local gas station had produced the county’s first murder in 3 years. However, in neighboring Clayton County, where I lived, there had been about 15 murders that year.
Statistics in urban areas are much worse. In Atlanta in 2015, there were 94 homicides, 170 rapes, 1,995 robberies, and 2,944 cases of aggravated assault. There were almost 5,000 burglaries, over 16,000 cases of larceny, and over 4,000 cars stolen. All this happened in just one year, in a city that is widely considered to be merely average in relation to other large American cities.
Statistics from Eastern Europe simply do not compare. Zagreb, Croatia, for example, a city of about 800,000 people, recorded 5 murders in 2009. For the same year, Ljubljana, Slovenia, had 1. Last year, Sarajevo had 11 total murders in 2016, only 3 of them by firearm.
In Mostar, I can send my 8-year-old son alone to the store 100 yards from my home to pick up a loaf of bread. Everyone knows who he is, and the threat of danger is nearly nonexistent. I doubt that sending a child on such an errand alone would even be legal in an American city.
While I know that the United States will always be my home, I can appreciate some of the practical advantages that living in a foreign country provides. Safety and crime were in no way reasons for leaving the U.S., but they are things that come to my mind whenever locals ask about my decision to leave my country.
But in addition to these things, the question always provides a chance to go deeper and discuss important things about life in general. I believe my work here has eternal significance. For me, many of the things that Americans — and Europeans — chase after are of lesser significance. I believe that helping people improve their lives and become the people God created them to be is a worthy cause.
In conclusion, the question always brings a chance to get to know people better and inject something thought-worthy into our relationship. It is in itself a chance to fulfil a little part of the purpose for which I came here.