News Articles

Firewood, food show God’s love in Balkans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When a local utility company in one of southeastern Europe’s Balkan countries shut off electricity to poor neighborhoods this past winter, Southern Baptists stepped in to help. And when those same families had trouble finding food this spring, community leaders knew where to turn.

“The situation this past winter was desperate,” said Edward Vaughan*, a Southern Baptist field partner in the area. “Members of the minority group here are severely below the poverty line. Unemployment is very high and families have very little by way of finances.

“When many families couldn’t pay their utility bills, the local electric company shut off their power for much of the day,” he added. “With the high temperatures in the low 40s and lows in the 20s — and little or no heat in the home — children were coming to school with frostbite issues. The head of a local school asked if we could help.”

An emergency request for $22,220 in relief funds was sent out to purchase firewood for about 100 families to make it through the last 10 weeks of winter. Families who received the assistance worked together as a community to cut, stack and deliver the wood.

At the time, Vaughan asked Southern Baptists to pray that the outreach would establish trusting relationships with local officials and that people would see that Southern Baptists care about them physically and spiritually.

The region is one where gestures of kindness are too few and far between, said Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in Europe and the Middle East for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization.

Throughout the 1990s, news reports in the United States were filled with stories of war in the Balkans. Even today, the capture of fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is a reminder of the chaos that engulfed the region when Yugoslavia collapsed. A decade later, Americans still remember the role their own soldiers played in stabilizing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The ethnic and religious tensions that fueled the fighting still simmer beneath the surface. In minority communities, people have little education and few opportunities to work. Providing for a family can be very difficult.

Because Southern Baptists had helped with the heating crisis during the winter, community leaders knew where to turn when hunger problems became acute this spring.

An allocation of $24,913.68 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is purchasing enough food to carry 70 families through four months, providing staple items like flour, beans, sugar and rice, as well as eggs, milk soup and cheese. An estimated 500 people will benefit from the project.

Reaching out to this minority people right now is crucial, Shepherd said.

“The Balkans have become the pit of pain and suffering for a lot of minority groups since the war,” Shepherd said. “It has become the breeding ground for a lot of ungodly elements. Organized crime, gangs, drug trafficking, smuggling and human trafficking have all increased. Areas of high unemployment and poverty provide the best breeding grounds for such elements to thrive. Different groups are recruiting for their own ideological agendas, whether religious or political.”

Contributions to the World Hunger Fund go a long way in the Balkans, Shepherd noted. “For what many families in North America spend on one outing at a restaurant, we can feed one family for an entire month,” he said.

“We can make a real difference in people’s lives by feeding families and providing heat for their homes,” he added. “And we are able to do just that with these families because Southern Baptists care about people in need — because of God’s love for us in our need.”
*Name changed for security reasons. Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

    About the Author

  • Mark Kelly