Friday, July 17, 2009

Yearbook Experiences - United By Love During War - pt 2

(photo of Ljiljana Ninković & daughters pg 197 of the 2009 Yearbook)

-part two-

Halim Curi, the brother from this previous post begins the story by describing what living conditions were like during the war, and how the people of Sarajevo were starving. He reports, "Each month they are supplied only a few pounds of flour, four ounces of sugar, and one pint of oil. Any available land in the city is used to plant vegetables. People cut down the trees of Sarajevo for firewood. When the trees are gone, they strip the parquet flooring from their apartments to use as fuel for cooking and heating. They use anything that will burn, even old shoes."
When Sarajevo was besieged, Ljiljana Ninković and her husband Nenad found themselves trapped and seperated from their two daughters. "We were a normal family with two children, an apartment, and a car," says Ljiljana. "And then suddenly everything changed." But they often experienced Jehovah's protective hand. "Twice our apartment was bombed just moments after we left it," Ljiljana continues. "Despite the hardships, we found joy in the simple things. For example, we were happy to go to the park and pick some dandelion leaves for a salad so that we could have more than just white rice to eat. We learned to be satisfied with what we had and not to take anything for granted."

One of the biggest problems was obtaining water. Rarely was there running water in the houses. People had to walk as far as three miles through areas targeted by snipers to get water. At the water collection point, people had to stand in line for hours waiting to fill their containers, and then they had to trudge home with their liquid burden. "The test came when we heard that there would be water in the homes for a short time," reports Halim. "Then everyone would have to take a shower, wash clothes, and collect and store water in as many containers as possible. But what if this long-awaited moment was at the same time as our congregation meeting? We would have to decide - either we go to the meeting or we stay at home to collect water."
While physical provisions were necessary, the brothers appreciated how essential the spiritual provisions were. At the meetings the brothers received not only spiritual food but also details on who was imprisoned, who had been injured, or even who had been killed. "We were like a family," relates Milutin Pajić, who serves as a congregation elder. "When we gathered for the meetings, we did not want to leave. After most meetings, we stayed for hours talking about the truth." Life was not easy, and the brothers often feared for their lives. Still, they put spiritual interests first. While the war ripped the country apart, Jehovah's people were drawn closer to one another and closer to their heavenly Father. Children observed their parents' loyalty and cultivated their own unshakable loyalty to Jehovah.

Along with the challenges of finding daily necessities, there was danger from snipers stationed around Sarajevo, who would pick off innocent citizens at random. Mortar attacks continued to rain down death from the skies. At times it was dangerous to move around in towns under siege. People lived in a state of dread. Yet, balancing wisdom with courage, our brothers did not stop sharing the good news of the Kingdom with people who so desperately needed comfort.

(photo on pg 209 - storing supplies)

Serbia could not escape the painful economic effects of the war, especially the rampant inflation. "During the 116 days between October 1993 and January 24, 1994," reports one source, "the cumulative inflation was 500 trillion percent." Mira Blagojević, who had worked at Bethel since 1982, recalls that she had to take an entire bagful of money to the market just to buy a few vegetables. Another sister, Gordana Siriski, relates that when her mother collected her month's pension, it was worth only the price of one roll of toilet paper. "It's really hard to understand how people could survive," said Gordana, "when everything they possessed suddenly became worthless. Thanks to our worldwide brotherhood, we received relief supplies from abroad. As people lost faith in the banks and the government, many found faith in God, and the brothers drew closer to one another."

(story continued from pgs 198 & 199)
The town of Bihać, located near the Croatian border, was isolated for nearly four years. People could not get out, and relief supplies could not get in. "It was hardest at the beginning of the war," relates a brother in this town, "not so much because of the difficult situation but because we were dealing with something new, something we had never experienced before. Amazingly, when the shelling started, the tension eased because we soon realized that not every grenade causes death. Some grenades don't even explode." Because no one could anticipate how long the fighting would last, the Bethels in Zagreb, Croatia, and in Vienna, Austria, coordinated an arrangement for storing humanitarian supplies in Kingdom Halls and Witness homes in Sarajevo, Zenica, Tuzla, Mostar, Travnik, and Bihać. As the fighting raged on, cities would suddenly be surrounded and isolated. With supply lines unexpectedly cut off, provisions would quickly be depleted. Nevertheless, although various towns in Bosnia were cut off from the rest of the world, the brotherly unity of Jehovah's Witnesses remained unbreakable. That provided a dramatic contrast with the inferno of ethnic and religious hatred sweeping through the land.

(photo on pg 199 - trucks arrive from Austria)

Many brothers who lost their homes sought refuge with others, and the congregations readily did whatever was needed to help. For instance, at their Kingdom Hall in Osijek, Croatia, the brothers warmly greeted a new family who had recently escaped from Tuzla, Bosnia, under very difficult circumstances. The congregation was delighted to learn that the wife was their spiritual sister. The authorities gave the family permission to move into a house, but it was old and run-down. When the brothers saw the dilapidated condition of the house, they provided help. One brought a stove, another supplied a window, and others provided a door and a bed. Some brought building materials, and others gave food and wood for fuel. By the following day, one room had been made livable. Yet, the house was still not adequate to shelter the family through the winter. So the congregation made a list of items still needed, and different publishers supplied whatever they could. Although poor themselves, they collected everything that was needed-from spoons to roofing materials. As the war continued, food supplies were quickly depleted, and the branch worked hard to care for both the material and the spiritual needs of our brothers. In cooperation with the Governing Body, the branch organized collections of food, clothing, shoes, and medical supplies. In the beginning, the help came mainly from local brothers, but their own difficulties limited how much they could do. In the meantime, brothers in Austria, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland generously donated clothing and medical supplies, as well as spiritual provisions. Trucks arrived day and night, driven by volunteers who put the needs of the Croatian brothers ahead of any concern for their personal safety. From the central storage location in Zagreb, supplies were directed to needy congregations. The brothers in Croatia had received help, but how could they now help their brothers in Bosnia?

(photo on pg 228 / delivering humanitarian supplies in Bosnia)

Although brothers in nearby countries knew that Bosnian Witnesses were suffering, for some time it was not possible to transport relief supplies to the needy brothers. Then, in October 1993, the authorities indicated that it might be feasible to take in relief supplies. Despite the dangers, our brothers decided to make the most of this opportunity. On October 26, five trucks left for Bosnia from Vienna, Austria, loaded with 16 tons of food and firewood. How would the convoy pass through the many areas where there was still heavy fighting? There were times on the trip when the brothers were in grave danger. "I had a late start that morning," recalls one of the drivers, "and found myself behind several other trucks delivering humanitarian goods. As I approached one of the checkpoint stations, all the trucks stopped while the officers checked papers. Suddenly I heard the sound of a sniper's rifle, and we saw that a non-Witness driver had been hit." Only drivers were allowed to enter Sarajevo with their trucks, so the other brothers who had accompanied the trucks had to wait outside the city. Still intent on encouraging the local brothers, they found a telephone, put a call through to the Sarajevo publishers, and delivered a much-needed encouraging public talk. Many times during the war, traveling overseers, Bethelites, and members of the Country Committee risked their lives to help their brothers survive physically and spiritually. For nearly four years, it was not possible for shipments to reach our brothers in Bihac. Although physical food did not cross the barricades that isolated the town, our brothers were able to receive some spiritual food. How? They gained access to a telephone line and a fax machine, which enabled them periodically to receive Our Kingdom Ministry and copies of The Watchtower... Being isolated for so many years was a challenge ... Imagine the brothers' delight on August 11, 1995 when two vehicles boldly marked "Jehovah's Witnesses Relief Supplies" rolled into Bihać. These were the first private vehicles to bring in humanitarian aid since the city was besieged! And they arrived just when the brothers felt as if they were near their breaking point - physically and mentally.