Questions people always ask: Why Bosnia?

There are questions that we constantly seem to hear. One of them is “why did you choose to go to Bosnia?” It’s a fair question. Why, of all the places in the world, would you choose to make your home in a country as obscure as Bosnia and Herzegovina? I usually say, “well that’s a long story”, or something to that affect.

Sit back, get comfortable — here’s the story of how our family came to live in this remote, beautiful place, halfway around the world from where we began.

New awakening

Like most stories of this nature, there is plenty of background. I am among the oldest of the millennials, having been born in the early 80s, with a faint recollection of events like the fall of the Berlin wall and the advent of email. As I was becoming an adult I can vividly remember the Florida re-count of 2000 and planes flying into the Twin Towers.

My parents became Christians some time before I was born and wanted their children to know and love Jesus Christ. But it wasn’t until I was in college, watching those planes explode that that decision finally became real for me. I couldn’t call myself a Christian just because I had spent plenty of time inside a church building, no more than one could call oneself a car after spending time in a garage.

Student ministry

I was drawn into student ministry first as a student, through the invitation of a friend who had a Bible study meeting in his dorm room. Through getting involved in that group, and then in the wider community of Christians on my campus, I saw my need for God. I decided not only to give my life to him, but to give a whole year of my life (how noble of me) to helping people overseas have a similar experience. I went to Sarajevo, Bosnia, with an organization called “Cru”, a world-wide, interdenominational ministry that operates in nearly 200 countries.

The first experience

My first year was so good I decided to come back for seconds. It was a ground-breaking experience for someone like me. My experience of Christian community and ministry had been fairly limited at that point, and this was something totally new. We walked up to random people on the street and asked them if they cared to talk about God. We distributed winter coats to people. We organized movie nights, seminars, and social events — anything to gather people.

Then I went back home. I thought I’d never come back to Bosnia. I found another job. I got married. This was a chapter of my life that was closed. But eventually that would change.

The comeback

In the winter of 2008, a friend of mine sat down with me and told me he was going to Sarajevo and he wanted me to come. He was going to sort of finish what we had begun several years before. At once I had a yearning I could not explain to go back and once again be in Europe, working on something truly compelling — helping bring a message of peace and hope to people in another culture.

It was hard to come back. It was an uphill climb. There were times when it seemed like we wouldn’t make it back. But in the fall of 2010, we finally made it.

We were back, as a family. It was different. We had different obligations, different expectations, but now finally we were back to finish what we had started several years earlier.

The mission

We’ve been back in Bosnia and Herzegovina permanently since 2010, with a mission of bringing young people together and building a community where all students can belong, believe in God, and become the people they are created to be. In a place where there is so much division, it is refreshing to be able to share a message of hope and redemption.

Thanks for reading. Make use of this site to find out more about our mission, our story, and what we are doing with young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Podcast episode 3: The Refugee Question in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Finally, here is the long-awaited third episode of podcast. The audience has been clamouring for the next instalment, the press has been calling, and time has been tight, but I have managed to finally bless my listeners with the sweet sound of my voice again 😉

As you listen, keep in mind that this episode is meant first to inform you of the situation, since it has become an important current event in the country where I live. Second, it is meant to raise questions that I believe we need to think about, especially those of us who claim to be Christians. I have tried to refrain from voicing any hard and fast opinions here, as I know this can be a controversial issue.

Notes and links for the information discussed in this episode can be found at the bottom of this post.

Enjoy.

=== Podcast transcript ===

Podcast 3: Refugee Question

Hi I’m Jonathan, and this is The Bosnia Project podcast. The Bosnia Project is the chronicle of my life as a world traveler youth worker father and husband. Today is episode three, and we are going to talk about the Refugee crisis in Bosnia and how it affects us as believers.

The Bosnia Project is the story of how I came to live and work overseas in a country called Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s my blog, the Bosnia Project dot com, this podcast, and our Facebook community, and email updates we send out to our supporters and followers.

“The Bosnia Project” is a process and a product, all wrapped up into one thing, and this podcast, the blog, and everything else is a way to catch all that work, write it down, record it and preserve it, so that it can be of use to someone. This is the Bosnia Project, and it will continue for a good while longer.

I often say that we are building a community where people can belong, believe in God, and become the people he has created them to be. It all starts with belonging. My personal path to where I am today began with a community that made me feel that I belong, that I had a place in their fellowship. That eventually gave me the tools that I needed to believe and become the person I am today. That’s why I believe that belonging is an essential part of becoming a believer and seeing meaningful life change.

There are lots of groups and ministries that are based on this principle. Alcoholics Anonymous, depression recovery, and many other kinds of mercy ministries are effective because of the community they create for people in need. These communities create a kind of social framework that helps lift people up out of the places they are in, so they can reform their lives.

When people fall into destructive lifestyles, they often find camaraderie there. There are often lots of other people who help them descend into places they otherwise wouldn’t want to go. And when people are finally able to recover, it is often because of the help they receive a community. Very few ever recover in isolation.

For you and me, in a very similar way, I think community is essential if we are serious about becoming the people we are created to be. Any kind of small group, men’s group, women’s Bible studies — they give us hope and focus us, and help us know that there are other people who care about us and want us to advance.

Introduction

Today in Bosnia refugees have begun to show up on our doorstep. These are people who don’t belong anywhere. They’ve been driven from their homes and literally have no place to call home, and they’ve started to show up in great numbers in the country where I live now. We often think of the refugee crisis as something akin to serving the poor in the places where we live. It’s a very complex thing.

===

Driving back from meeting

In Bosnia and Herzegovina you have the capital city of Sarajevo, where I lived for a total of 7 years altogether, and then as you go west, towards the border of Croatia and European Union, the only big city you come through is Mostar, where I live right now. Right now, I’m driving back from Sarajevo to Mostar. There’s two small towns you go through to Mostar, I’m in that last stretch before you get to Mostar. It’s an incredibly beautiful, striking drive, especially when the sun is out.

You have a river that cuts through this mountainous area, and the road is down next to the river, so when you’re driving your way down in the middle of a valley, and the mountains go straight up on either side of you. The way the mountains are made up they look like sheets of rock going down diagonally into the water. It’s as if the sheets are almost on a 45 degree with the water, and they are sliding down into the water. It typifies Herzegovina and its distinct look and how it’s different from the rest of the country.

===

Bosnian refugee work

Refugees have started to come to Bosnia because they have nowhere else to go. They start in the Middle East, and their goal is to get to a place where they can lead productive, safe lives, unthreatened by conflict. So naturally, they go West. The nations to the east and the north are not really in a position to help them, and they have their own problems. They go west, they come through Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, and many of them get caught there. They stay in camps there, funded by the Turkish or Greek or Jordan governments, and they are provided for, but they have to live in tents and temporary buildings. Their children don’t go to school, their lives sort of go on pause for the time that they’re there.

Then many hear of the locations of these camps, and they choose different routs, searching for better locations. They want to get to Germany, they want to get to France. Once they get to these countries, they’ll be accepted as refugees, or they’ll be able to apply for some kind of protected status, and they will be able to stay. But they get stopped at the borders of the European Union. Once they’re in, they’re in, but the EU doesn’t have to let them in.

So, they try different entry points, which has brought them finally to Bosnia. There are as many as 100 people showing up in Bosnia every day, from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and other countries across the Middle East. They’ve been stopped all across the borders, and so they have to stay in Bosnia. They’re at several different places. There’s a large hostel in Ilidza, there’s a bombed out building in Bihac, there’s tents set up by volunteers in the center of Sarajevo, there’s a refugee camp in Mostar. The response ranges from incredibly unorganized and chaotic, to organized and sophisticated in other places.

===

Refugee clarifications

Here are some clarifications that may be helpful as we think about the refugee issue in the world.

  1. Refugee is a loaded word. It’s a politically charged word no matter how it is used. A refugee is someone who is justifiably seeking refuge from a government or other group, and is therefore seeking to permanently leave their home country and take up residence in a safer place. So if you accept that someone is a refugee then you are also accepting a couple of things:
    1. That the country they are leaving is unjustly persecuting that person.
    2. That person is not a criminal for trying to run away.
    3. They have the basic right to leave wherever they were living and seek refuge somewhere else.
  2. All of the people involved in this crisis are technically migrants — and many of the migrants are refugees. Some people are not refugees, because they are migrating for reasons that technically don’t qualify them as refugees. Basically, their home country is not in an all-out war.
    1. However, for the kurds from Turkey, for example, that are part of this huge group of migrants, they’ve always been persecuted by their own government. But Turkey is a legitimate, universally-recognized, functioning state, a member of NATO, and we can’t really say that people fleeing their country qualify as “refugees”. Saying that would imply that a member of NATO is mistreating its citizens, maybe that country is deserving of some type of sanctions, and so forth. It would be unsupportive of its government — a government that’s supposedly aligned with the West.
    2. So, the Kurdish factions of Turkey have taken their cause into their own hands, raising up their own leaders and creating their own institutions that fight for equality for their people in Turkey and the surrounding countries. In the United States, this would’ve been something like the NAACP, the Black Panther movement, the Nation of Islam, and other groups that rose up to fight for Black equality. But in Turkey, there is an obvious difference — these people are going for an independent Kurdish state as the end-goal for their fight. They want Kurdish equality, Kurdish autonomy, Kurdish independence — which means that they eventually would like to secede from the state of Turkey. They view this as their goal, as their right. Which raises a lot of questions — if these people are against their government, what’s the difference between them and a terrorist?
    3. But don’t they have reason to protest against their government — a government that has in the past outlawed the use of the Kurdish language? Don’t they have a right to protest against the suppression of their culture by a government where another ethnic group is clearly in the driver’s seat? And what about the history of crimes, deaths, even massacres committed against the Kurdish peoples over the past several centuries? The Kurdish people have a rich history of existence that goes back several centuries. However, In an attempt to deny their existence, the Turkish government categorized Kurds as “Mountain Turks” until 1991.
    4. So, what’s the verdict? Are these people terrorists? or are they legitimately oppressed minorities? By using the word refugee you would be choosing a side in this conflict — something none of us intend to do.
  3. As a Christian — and I think this is the question that most of us listening want to answer — how can we do what we are supposed to do, without wading into this political question?

===

American attitudes

We’ve got some questions to answer as Americans. At least, that’s what the people at the Pew Research Center say. They do surveys, though, so they’re always saying that. Sir, would you mind answering a few questions? I never stop and answer. I guess I’m reluctant to give my opinion.

There’s an article on the Pew website about how people in the US are turning more negative toward refugees. The picture at the top is of a girl from Bhutan, sitting in college class in the US. The caption reads, “Her extended family was resettled in the area, as were hundreds of other refugees from Bhutan and Nepal in recent years.

In the late 1980s Bhutanese elites regarded a growing ethnic Nepali population as a demographic and cultural threat. The government enacted discriminatory citizenship laws directed against ethnic Nepalis, that stripped about one-sixth of the population of their citizenship and paved the way for their expulsion.

After a campaign of harassment that escalated in the early 1990s, Bhutanese security forces began expelling people, first making them sign forms renouncing claims to their homes and homeland. “The army took all the people from their houses,” a young refugee told me. “As we left Bhutan, we were forced to sign the document. They snapped our photos. The man told me to smile, to show my teeth. He wanted to show that I was leaving my country willingly, happily, that I was not forced to leave.”

Today, about 108,000 of these stateless Bhutanese are living in seven refugee camps in Nepal. The Bhutanese authorities have not allowed a single refugee to return. In 2006, the US government, seeing an impasse, offered to resettle 60,000 of the Bhutanese refugees.

Now, only about half of Americans (51%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while 43% say it does not. That qualifies as a controversial issue.

But what would be the best way to assist in this crisis? Would it be to resettle these people into a neighboring country where they would probably become an impoverished group again, never at home, and never provided for? Which nation would be in a position to support a group of people who have no means of support? Which nation would be able to place these people into a situation where they can work, support their families, and lead meaningful productive lives?

To date, 92,000 of the 108,000 total refugees from the situation in Bhutan have been resettled to the United States. Many of them own businesses, work in jobs, and send their children to school in communities across the United States. In the United states, refugees from places like Bhutan are often resettled by large faith-based charities like World Relief, which was Founded in 1944 as the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals as a response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe after World War II.

These are their values: The Example of Jesus as we serve those who are suffering from poverty and injustice, regardless of color, belief, or gender, as part of God’s plan to redeem, reconcile, and restore the world. We seek to follow Jesus by living holy, humble, and honest lives individually and corporately. The Local Church as a primary agent of bringing peace, justice, and love to a broken world.

There are Bhutanese people still in refugee camps, but most of them have been resettled to Western countries. Many were resettled by World Relief. And I think that’s where we’d like for them to be — in the hands of a group of people seeking to live out the “example of Jesus”, working to alleviate suffering because of a deep desire to see this world redeemed.

===

Middle East Refugees

In the Middle East, though, the numbers are different. Maybe because it’s such a high-profile struggle, maybe because of the stigma attached to accepting Muslim refugees, or maybe because of other factors, the number of people resettled to the United States has been unimpressive.

There are 6.1 million refugees from Syria.

Many in the US have remarked that these refugees should be taken in by neighboring countries. Well, they have.

Kuwait has taken 150,000

Iraq has taken 230,000 — even as it faces the remnants of ISIS.

The UAE have taken 242,000

One of the world’s poor nations, Sudan, has taken 100,000.

Jordan has taken 1.3 million

Lebanon has taken in 2.2 million

3.5 million have been taken in by the nation of Turkey.

This situation, unlike the situation in Bhutan, is one where the US hasn’t been one of the top nations extending help to those displaced. And as I said before, offering help has a lot of complex side effects. By accepting refugees into your country, you’re saying that it’s ok to call them refugees and give them refugee status. By doing that, you’re saying something about the place they came from. You’re saying it’s not treating its citizens properly.

But in the process, in the US, you’re also giving people like World Relief the chance to have an impact and an influence on people who have been driven from their homes. You’ve giving people who’ve been impoverished, persecuted, threatened, the chance to live a normal, productive life in a nation that can support them quite easily.

So far, seven years into the Syrian conflict, 16,000 of the 6.1 million refugees from Syrian have been resettled to the US.

===

The Question

So, back to that question I raised before — how can we do what we are supposed to do, without wading into this political question?

Think about the question — it’s got two parts. The second part, wading into political arena, is what always stops people from doing things. We don’t want to be political, but we often don’t realize that by doing nothing we become political. We’re political because we are more concerned with the outer appearance of what we’re doing than we are with the act itself.

We need not be reminded — or maybe we do — of other situations in our world’s history. Inaction is action. Not to act is to act.

The question, then, ought to be, how can we do what we are supposed to do? There’s no second part of the question. I’m a Christian anyway, and this is not our home, anyway. Or at least, here we do not have a lasting home — we are looking for the home that is to come. We’re supposed to have an eternal perspective. What we’re supposed to do is the eternal question. Political conflicts are by nature, fleeting, temporary, short. The question that will stand the test of time is, did I do what I was meant to do? Regardless of the political questions involved.

So, whether you’re in Atlanta — where I was over 20 years ago — or in Bosnia — where I am now — there’s the question. Am I going to do what I’m meant to do? Am I going to try to serve this community? Am I going to support that person that needs my assistance? Am I going to go looking for people who need my help? Am I even aware of the help I can offer?

I hope this has given all of us plenty to think about.

===

Notes about the Kurdish people

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurds#Antiquity

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_of_Kurdish_people_in_Turkey#Issues

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey#Demographics

Notes about attitudes toward refugees and immigrants in the US

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/03/the-number-of-refugees-admitted-to-the-u-s-has-fallen-especially-among-muslims/

http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/immigration-attitudes/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/24/republicans-turn-more-negative-toward-refugees-as-number-admitted-to-u-s-plummets/

Notes about refugees in Bhutan

https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/02/01/bhutans-ethnic-cleansing

Notes about World Relief

https://www.worldrelief.org/values

Book for life: 10 Questions to Diagnose your Spiritual Health

In my last post, I gave a brief review of Celebration of Discipline, a book I’ve read several times. For me, Celebration falls into a category I call “books for life” — books that can be read and re-read, and that give new insights with each new reading. Here is another book that I believe will benefit anyone who is interested in deepening their spiritual awareness.

10 Questions to Diagnose your Spiritual Health

At first glance, this title seems kind of strange. It seems strange that one would talk about spiritual health as if it can be diagnosed so easily, the way a doctor might diagnose an infection or a cold. It might seem somewhat judgmental — here’s a man that thinks he can size you up, see if you’re up to par.

However, from the first pages, Dr. Whitley establishes that his goal is to humbly help believers see the things that Scripture says every believer ought to experience. His words never give the impression that he is looking down on those who have not or are not experiencing the various things he talks about — rather, he continually counsels the reader to seek the Lord and pray for these things, so that they too might experience them.

Here are the questions:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

From the introduction:

So whatever the present state of your spiritual health or the rate of your spiritual growth, let’s begin by “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). May the Lord be pleased to use this little volume to help you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

There is a recognition throughout the book that, while we may read endless books and try with all our might, it is God that brings lasting change. Yet Dr. Whitley clearly communicates his desire, that the Lord would work through his words to change the reader and bring his life closer in line with that of Jesus.

I highly recommend this book for small group discussions or personal study. It is small and easy to digest, but it is full of wisdom and encouragement for those who wish to go deeper in their walk with God.

A book for life: Celebration of Discipline

At the family reunion yesterday I joked with someone about how I stopped reading books after about five or six really good books, and now my personal reading consists solely of reading those books over and over. And while I was mostly joking there was at least some truth to the statement. So here is one of the books I’ve recently finished re-reading, and I offer it as a recommendation for everyone who it’s interested in deepening their personal spiritual journey.

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster

In our day, discipline is truly something to celebrate, and something that we often aspire to. In the Christian world, there are several habits, or disciplines, that have been practiced by Christians through the ages. These are the things that are prescribed in Christian Scripture, and are the activities through which God has said he will speak. In other words, when we do these things, God has promised he will show up.

Here is the list: 

  1. Meditation
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Study
  5. Simplicity
  6. Solitude
  7. Submission
  8. Service
  9. Confession
  10. Worship
  11. Guidance
  12. Celebration

The presence of God is a constant and does not change during our day-to-day struggles on this earth; the concept of God “showing up” is actually misguided. However, our perception of his presence does change, and journeying through this list will heighten the believer’s awareness of him in all circumstances.

Dr. Foster explains each of the habits in depth and gives helpful ways to apply each one in day-to-day life. One can read Celebration cover to cover in a week, or study it slowly over a month and give proper attention to all the Scripture references and footnotes. Both methods are profitable for the reader and offer their own level of benefit. Celebration is a treasure to have on any bookshelf or nightstand.

Interview with Richard Foster

Preview Celebration of Discipline here:

Get yourself on TV. I did.

You really must read this message I got through our Facebook page recently.

Dear sir,

I am a fourth year student at the college of human sciences, with my concentration in communications sciences. I am currently working in my internship with City Television station, and we are shooting one episode in which my assignment is the theme of the day. My desire is to do a piece about how foreigners live in Mostar, and I thought that perhaps someone from your organization would be a relevant spokesperson. If you are available tomorrow or Friday to speak with us, I would be much obliged.

Sincerely…

Unfortunately, I was out of town when the message came, so I sent my regrets and said that if I could help when I returned, I would. She contacted me again, through Facebook, and said that we could just do the piece when I returned. Then she called me. Then she sent more messages on Facebook. I should do this thing, I thought, out of respect for her persistence, if for no other reason.

Soon another message came:

Sir,

My colleagues said that we can arrange the shoot for tomorrow. I have seen several times that you ride your bike to your office. I believe that would be an interesting caveat to the piece. Would it be a problem to film you doing that, for example coming to your office or somewhere in town?

Sincerely…

Are these people watching me?

* * *

I agreed, and we met in our town’s square and did the piece. It went on without a hitch. It was a very interesting chance to connect with someone and voice an opinion or two. I had to speak their language, but I think I got my point across.

Sometimes, opportunities fall into your lap.

Honestly, I did nothing to make this whole thing happen. I didn’t go searching for the publicity, and yet an intern from City Television — a station I have never watched — came calling. There is something to be said here for the fact that, especially if you are watching for it, life occasionally presents you with opportunities that you would never search for.

Being in the right place at the right time is a big part of life.

But getting the opportunities is only half of the story — you have to be in a position to use them. And in our line of work, that is the story that matters: how you use the opportunities you have been given.

Reputation. Values. Character. Those are the keys that unlock this puzzle.

Even when you have the keys, the puzzle is still a puzzle. You’ve got to be in the right place to hear your calling. But one thing is for sure — you can’t get to that place if you have a bad reputation among the people you are trying to reach. And you won’t get that good reputation unless you have strong values. And you won’t arrive at decent values without team members who possess strong character.

What are we doing to get to that place? How can we press onward toward the reputation, values, and character that God wants for us?

Answering these questions will bring us closer to the place where we can be ready to have an impact and make lasting change.

Why you must keep a positive outlook

In my experience, you’ve got to keep a positive outlook, or you’ll lose everything you’re working for.

Motivational speakers = snake oil salesmen, right?

We’ve all scrolled down on Facebook and seen the great speeches, the infographics, and the emotional appeals that accompany everyday social media. Most people share articles without actually reading them themselves, research has shown (proven by stories I have yet to read here, here, and here).

Whether it’s Tony Robbins, some story about a dog rescuing someone, or something else, we all know we don’t really have much control over what our friends choose to share, and most of it is not really that important, anyway. However, it seems like much of the viral content out there has to do with positivity and motivation.

We know social media usually doesn’t have the power to actually change anyone. But at the same time, why is it that so much of the material posted has to do with simply keeping a positive perspective?

We’ve all got plenty to do; does it matter if we’re “positive” about it all?

To cut to the chase, it matters. It matters, because it does. That’s about as much as anybody knows. We know that people who have a negative outlook end up doing less, because they are convinced that their efforts will end up failing. But we also know that a positive outlook doesn’t guarantee success. It’ll always be a bit mysterious, but one thing is for sure: just about everyone who believes they’ll fail ends up failing. Meanwhile, some of the people who believe they’ll succeed actually make it. 

When you work with people, you can’t lose your grip on reality. But perhaps even more important, you can’t lose your grip on possibility.

I think we are wired this way, as human beings, because of our longing for redemption. We know that the world is broken; we know that somewhere inside, we’re broken too, and our greatest desire is to see that brokenness fixed somehow. If we can get our minds around that, it seems to me that we start to look for the possibility in people, instead of focusing on the negative.

Progress, both in my world and in the business world, is often slow. I’m told that five percent annual growth, for an entrepreneur, is great success. At that rate, the size of one’s business doubles in 20 years. Perhaps that’s the best way to see a parallel between charity work and the for-profit world.

  • At every step, at every turn, we’ve got to see the God-given potential in people with whom we work. Otherwise, we would surely quit — people change incredibly slowly! 
  • We believe that setbacks are opportunities for growth, because if we didn’t, we’d surely close up shop and leave.
  • And we’ve got to see the value in deepening relationships; because change that doesn’t have a deep foundation won’t last.

So, there are some reasons why we tend to gravitate to all of those posts about positivity and motivation. A positive outlook is what keeps us going forward, and what keeps us looking inward and upward.

Grace and peace.

The importance of a good reputation, revisited

From time to time, I’ve written here about the importance of having and building a good reputation in the community where one works. Whether one is in a small town or in the capital city, having a good reputation will bring opportunities that would be otherwise impossible. In our work, two things happened this week that, hopefully, are signs that the work we’ve done to build a reputation is paying off.

Becoming known as capable

The first thing that happened was completely unexpected, and is not something we normally go out looking for. A student from the local law school’s student organization contacted us, asking if we would be interested in teaching an English class for law students, organized completely by them. They have a need for someone who can come and help them learn some legal terms, but they don’t have the means to pay a professor or certified instructor, and so they turned to us, on the basis of the classes we have already been offering.

What an opportunity — one that we would never have gotten, had we not first done the work of putting on English classes for students in the first place. In our effort to provide a service to students, and because we sought to do a decent job, we have become known as a group capable of providing that service.

Becoming known as compassionate

The second thing that happened takes us in a different direction, and is no less special. After we announced our efforts to collect clothes ahead of Christmas, I was contacted by a student from a nearby town, asking about it. She said she had read about it in the newspaper. 

Now, this still has me a little bit confused, but apparently, someone who was involved in one of our events works for the local newspaper. I was able to find the paragraph they wrote — it was pulled directly from our group’s Facebook page, nearly word for word.

What do we want to be known for?

I think there is so much to learn here. Here are just a couple of things

  • Compassion and competence are two things that are contagious — when people see them, they just want more! I would not say we have been big promoters of ourselves, but somehow news has managed to get out, without our knowledge. Fortunately, we have been serving people well in our community, and people have begun to ask us to do more.
  • You are always building something with your time. At times it has been impossible to see the pieces coming together, but over the past year and a half we have managed to be noticed for doing some positive things. The reputation, up to now, was built whether we noticed or not — and now has provided some things we can be happy about.

What now? We thank God, and we trust him to provide us with the time and skills to do these things he has entrusted to us.

Teaching English: Making an impact

It is common for people like us to organize things like English classes in our locations, as a way to meet people and offer a tangible service to the demographic where we serve. There are many advantages — English is a universal need in the developing world, and knowledge of English increases one’s opportunities for employment. But there are also many challenges. This post will detail these advantages and disadvantages and provide some information about the things we currently do in Mostar.

Why teach English?

Meeting people. When you come to a foreign country with the goal of having an eternal impact, it is important to meet as many people as possible. Especially for young families, you may have a decent home in which to host people, but if you are not exposed in some way to large numbers of people, hosting anyone will prove difficult. Providing a service offers an easy way to give people a reason to meet you.

Tangible service. As foreigners living in a developing country, we are often asked why we moved here. If we can provide some kind of service that helps people tangibly, then building relationships is easier, even if people we meet are not in need of our service. They are more likely to see us as a benefit to the community, rather than a drain.

Legitimacy. Providing a service also helps our presence here to be seen as legitimate. If we were not able to easily explain our work to people around us, it would be hard for people to see a reason for us to be here.

Problems still arise

We are not professionals. Unfortunately, I did not study English at college (this may be the first time those words have been written!). While English is my mother tongue, and I believe I do a good job of teaching people the basics of the language, it is sometimes hard to know how to best structure lessons. I have to do a fair amount of reading, as well as listening to my students, to know which direction to take next.

Certifications. The door is open to eventually putting together an certified, legitimate English course, through which we can offer Cambridge or TOEFL certification to students. However, these things are difficult and costly to establish. This is another consideration that affects our work.

What we are doing

Large classes. Last year, we started our first series of traditional classes, and it started off well, but most of our students dropped out halfway through. We gained a lot of good will through organizing the classes, but we always questioned their effectiveness.

English in small groups. This year, we have taken to organizing classes in smaller groups of 4 or 5 students. This allows us much more time in conversation and allows us to get to know people much better, making for more committed students, and more effective class time. We see this as a way forward, while we tackle the bigger questions of official certification and legitimacy.