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Blankets remind Kosovars daily that God, Baptists love them

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PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (BP)–The 36,000 blankets Southern Baptists sent to war-ravaged Kosovo last fall are keeping people warm and daily reminding them of God’s love, missionaries working in the area say.

The blankets were divided between two major cities, Pristina and Pec, where Southern Baptist workers and their Kosovar helpers distributed them to people in need, said Connie Davis, a Southern Baptist missionary in Pristina.

“In Pristina, we donated 400 blankets to a group that has a widow assistance program, and more than 1,000 went to the unemployed families of a brick factory,” Davis said. “The hospital was given blankets for every bed. Another 1,200 were distributed to a small village named Vragoli, where we were putting roofs on houses.”

As many as 860,000 Kosovar Albanians fled or were expelled from the province of Yugoslavia this past spring. The vast majority returned to find their homes destroyed by Serbs or damaged by NATO bombs.

The “Blanket Kosovo With Love” project began in August as the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s response to thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees returning to Kosovo and facing a harsh winter climate similar to America’s Colorado Rockies.

“Many Kosovars are living in homes that were burned during the war. Most live in one room with windows and doors of plastic to help block out the cold winds and under makeshift plastic roofs to help keep the moisture out,” Davis said. “The whole family sleeps in this one room and then they gather up their beds and live there during the day.

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“It is a desperate situation, but thanks to the generosity of Southern Baptists the winter will be a little warmer,” she said. “It’s a humbling experience to realize that something we would take for granted, being warm inside our homes, would be so valued by these people who have suffered so much.”

In the Pec area, blankets were given to the 1,300 families already receiving food aid provided by Southern Baptists, said Southern Baptist missionary Debbie Rouse. Others were taken to a school for blind children, many of whom were separated from their families during the entire course of the war.

About 30 blankets were put to a special holiday use, doubling as costumes for children participating in a Christmas play, Rouse said. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men and even angels donned their makeshift robes while a Kosovar believer read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.

In addition to the blankets, Southern Baptist volunteers helped put roofs on houses damaged during the war and distributed wood-burning stoves to families without heat, Rouse said. Workers in both Pec and Pristina partnered with the Samaritan’s Purse aid group to distribute some of that group’s 300,000 shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to children in area schools and hospitals.

In the midst of all the suffering in Kosovo, God is answering prayers and revealing himself, Rouse added.

“We were working at our warehouse and heard some men screaming next door at the cement factory,” she recounted. “We rushed over and saw a man had fallen in the machinery. A big piece of equipment was on his back.

“I started praying immediately. I asked God to reveal himself to the workers in a miraculous way and that this man would not be hurt.

“When the workers finally lifted the equipment off the man, he jumped up. He was not even hurt!

“I started praising God and told all the workers how God had saved that man. They all knew something incredible had happened.”

Rouse asked Southern Baptists to pray for Kosovars and the witness and ministry efforts being conducted among them.

“Some are believing, others have heard and are asking questions,” she said. “Our prayer is that they will continue to be open to the gospel and that they will see Jesus clearly and know the truth.”