At long last, this is a new podcast episode! In this episode we address a couple of basic questions about what we do here in Eastern Europe, including:
- Who are you and what do you do?
- Why make a podcast?
- Why is Bosnia “strategic”?
- Why is important to “bring people together”?
Here are the notes / script for the episode — you can read here, or just plug in the earphones and listen. Enjoy!
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jonathan, and I work with young people and college students in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I run a local Christian ministry to teens and students int eh city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am on the staff of Cru, which is a big international Christian ministry organization. This is the first podcast in a very long time, so I want to give that introduction, since many of you might be listening to this episode as your first ever listen to us.
I am a Protestant Christian, and my opinions and conclusions that I share here will come from that viewpoint and perspective. You are welcome to disagree with those conclusions — not everyone needs to agree with us in order to listen — and it is likely that we might disagree, because my experiences are most likely very different from the majority of American Christians. So from time to time I am probably going to share something here that reflects on international relations or political crises or dilemmas, stories from world history, and other things that will be interesting to a very wide range of people in our audience. So, hopefully, we will talk about some things that are interesting to everyone out there as we go through all the things that affect us here in the region where we are, Eastern Europe. It will not be just a continuous conversation about theology, though I am a theology student. It will not be just a dissection of Christian doctrine.
The podcast will be a discussion of different things that I have learned as a foreigner living in a strange land for the last 10+ years. So we will touch on a lot of different issues and conversations that people are having around the world. We will talk about things generally from a Christian perspective, but we will acknowledge that there are other perspectives out there in the world, and that people listening to us might have different ways of looking at things. We will certainly always attempt to be respectful, and treat everyone with dignity that they deserve — As the book of 1 Peter in the New Testament says, Treat everyone with high regard: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God.
Why a Podcast?
There are many reasons to do a podcast.
1. It’s easy. It’s an easy way to get in touch with all of you and let you know what we are doing. And we have many, many friends, supporters, donors, and followers who we want to connect with and keep up with back home in the US. It may sound like a complicated thing, but in reality this is a very simple enterprise. It’s just me and my computer and a couple of little gadgets, sitting down to a personal conversation with all of you. Ideas are great, and they are of course more personal, but they are hard to set up and produce – there are lights and picture and sound; podcasts are a lot more simple and provide us with a way to do more personal communication without getting into video. This is a budget podcast, and it will stay that way. We might have some guests on in the future, some more family members, but in general it will be just another way for me to connect with all of you on a budget.
2. It allows us to produce long-form content. Let’s be honest – we are overloaded with all the social media bite-sized posts, clips, articles, links, etc etc etc. Most of the things you read from me fit a different niche in your information diet, and podcasting lends itself to that niche. It allows me to go deeper into my content, provide some longer answers to questions that we often get about our work, and connect on a more meaningful level.
3. Visiting people in person is not possible right now. The COVID situation continues to affect the world, and I’m sure it’s become something that you have heard about non-stop for the last 9 months or so. As foreigners in the country where we live, we are directly affected by decisions of governments to open and close their borders, and so doing an international trip at this time is a big risk. We could take off and then find out that the situation has changed while we were in the air. We could contract COVID in the airport — so many things could happen. And so, I’m left with only a few options in connecting with all of you right now. One of those is email updates, which you can sign up for at our website, thebosniaproejct.com, and this is another option — the podcast.
4. It provides a recurring touch point for us. Whereas before I was coming into your inbox, now, you can download a podcast and listen to me while you’re running, or in your car — and that’s what I’m really interested in. Talking to you all the time. Not really, but when we produce new episodes, they’ll update in your podcast feed, and you’ll be able to receive them without any effort on your part. That is, if we are consistent with our communication. So, here’s to more and better communication.
Why is Bosnia Strategic?
This might seem obvious as I am currently living here, but there are a lot of reasons that I think that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a strategic location. This is a question that people have asked me a lot in the past, and I’e at times struggled to provide a definitive answer, other than that I felt called to be here and this is where I’ve personally landed. But when you think about the world situation and where there is a need for the type of work that we do, I believe you can make a very good argument for why Bosnia is indeed a strategic place to be doing the type of work that we do right now.
Let’s start with the general situation in our region. There is the European Union, which is a really important union of about 27 European countries that have come together over the years after world war 2 to aline economically, politically, culturally. This union has been expanding for the last several decades and sees itself as one of the major groups promoting democracy and freedom around the world. There are a lot of conditions that a country must meet in order to join, and there are a lot of countries particularly in the Eastern portion of the European continent that are now in the process of joining, and it takes several years to become a member. However, the country where I live, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is not currently a member. And there are many reasons for this, but it is enough to just say right now that the state of the country has made it such that the country has not been able to join. And for this reason, the country is still one f the last countries in Eastern Europe that has yet to join the most important political union in the region.
For this reason, it is still fairly unstable here, there are not a lot of companies or individuals seeking to come here and invest their wealth in the country, and in general, for the people that live here, their greatest ambition is to leave the country. The nation of Bosnia is one of the nations with the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, and one of the highest rates of people leaving the country, permanently. So, just to put this in context for you, in the US, the highest ambitions that I’m talking about, for a teenager or college student, would be to become President. That’s one of the old things about the US that people used to say — anyone, if they worked hard, and if they followed the right sort of path, theoretically they could become President, if they wanted to. The highest aspirations for a lot of people might be to become a doctor or a lawyer, to be the first to go to college in their family. To become a business owner. There are many things that fit this category of high aspirations for people in a country like the US. However, for people in Bosnia, these are all replaced with “leave the country”. That’s because they see the disorder and instability in the country, and they believe that, if they were to do something smart with their life, it would probably have to involve leaving the country. If they were to pursue a stable job, a place where they could support their family and be free of instability, then they would have to leave the country and live somewhere else as an immigrant. And so that is the path that so many people follow.
In that unstable environment, there is a lot of division between the various ethnic groups in the country. Americans don’t really think along ethnic lines, so it is hard to explain this kind of thing to our American audience. However, you might understand it more easily if I talk about religions in the country, because ethnicities in Bosnia and Herzegovina basically break down along religious lines. There is nationally about 50% of the country that is Muslim, about 20% that is Catholic, and about 30% that is Eastern Orthodox. So, you can see that all three groups have a really large section of the population, and they all have religious and cultural views that are more or less exclusive to the other groups. They don’t really preach that you can live comfortably in the same country with the other two groups, and so there is a lot of division, politicking, and pontificating that goes on when they try to govern the country, and everything moves really slowly, and not very much gets done. And this filters down to everything in life for people that live here.
In addition to this, there is a very very small church community, and so there is a great great need for people to get involved here and have a cultural impact by doing good, positive things that will bring people together. There is a high need for good Christian work to bring people together, because there is very very little that brings people together across these ethnic and religious lines, and there are very few people that promote hope and optimism for the country.
So why is it important to bring people together?
Division is undesirable because it leads to hatred and violence in society. In the macro, it leads to war, stagnation, destruction. In the micro level, it leads to negativity, despair, depression. I think that a sense of belonging is fundamental to the way humans organize themselves. If it was not, we would not have families, communities, and governments. These things are naturally occurring. Psychologists have found that even one instance of exclusion in a person’s life can undermine their well-being, and IQ test scores. There are statistics showing that a Lower sense of belonging was significantly associated with greater depression, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
So, the activities and programs that our ministry runs here in our city reach people on both “sides” of our city. Like a lot of cities here in Southeastern Europe, we are divided between one group on one side of the city and another group on the other side, and so there are very few things that are truly available to young people on both sides. You either play for a Catholic sports team or a Muslim sports team. You either go to a school on the Catholic side or the Muslim side. And yet we simply advertise our English workshops and our seminars and other things openly, and we consistently get young people who come and say that they love seeing things that bring all backgrounds of people together.
We also spend a lot of mental energy and planning, trying to make our office space into a place where people can come and belong, with a team of people that will take an interest in them and challenge them to grow and change. This, we believe is essential to a young person breaking away from the division that exists all around them, and this is something that you have the opportunity to do here in a way that might be more noticed than if you were to go to a more wealthy, more Western country and do the same thing. For us, this kind of thing is second nature, but for the people here that we work with, this is a really important and really noticeable thing that makes us different from all the other places around where they can get involved.
Another reason is that we believe God wants to bring people together from all nations
As I mentioned before, my perspective is as a born-again, Protestant Christian, and that faith impacts all the things that I do. I might talk about that here a bit more than in the other episodes, but we believe that God wants to bring people together, and that influences our desire to see people live and work together in harmony. Just putting aside the basic preconceptions that one might have about Christians in society and what Christians supposedly believe and promote publicly, there is a clear principle that, if someone has accepted the teachings of Jesus, as revealed in the Scriptures, then they will or should want the same things that he would want. And one of those things is to see people, who are created in his image, working and living together in harmony and peace, thriving and making each other happy, instead of being divided and fighting with each other. So, yes, we want to see people know God — of course, and that is something we talk to people about — but something that also gives us joy is that we can be a light to people in just the way that we welcome people in and work together, and in the way that we include people regardless of their ethnic or religious background. And that is countercultural, and something that makes us stand out.
There is a lot more that can be said about this, but we have one of the basic teachings of the New Testament, in Galatians, that there is now neither “Jew nor Greek, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. This means that the community of God is a community of faith, which is not constructed in the ways that all other human communities are constructed. It is a community of people from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of religions, from all different kinds of places, who are coming together because the Lord has drawn them to himself and they are learning to put their hope and trust in Jesus. So, as we do the work that we do, as we teach English, as we lead academic seminars, as we take part in our churches, and as we work in our communities, we know that just this aspect of reaching out to all people and loving them regardless of their background is a real, countercultural thing, it is directly fighting against some of the things that are bringing this society down, and it is something that is sorely needed here in this part of the world, especially. And that is a little quick summary of why I believe the work we do in this part of the world is strategic.
I hope you’ve had a great Fall so far, and I hope you’ll listen again.
For more you can check out our website, thebosniaproject.com . I have recently posted a new article on the blog, and you can have fun looking around at the various things we think are important and interesting.
As we head into the holiday season, we hope that you are experiencing peace and joy in your life, and that you will be able to spend the time with the ones you love. Thanks for listening.
This podcast was made by me, Jonathan Trousdale, using my laptop and a few little gadgets and apps. If you’ve enjoyed this — if it’s enriched your life, consider helping us keep going and doing what we do. If you’d like to donate, instructions are in the notes and it’s easy to give online.