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‘Much distress and uncertainty’ facing Yugoslavs, Baptist reports

BELGRADE, Serbia (BP)–Post-war miseries continue in bombing-devastated Serbia, a Baptist-based humanitarian ministry leader reported in an e-mail newsletter Aug. 1.

“The economic and political situation continues to cause much distress and uncertainty,” wrote Jasmina Tosic of the Bread of Life ministry headquartered in Belgrade, capital of the remaining nation of Yugoslavia, target of last year’s U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign to counter ethnic cleansing in the Kosovo province.

Among specific concerns cited by Tosic:

— “Statistics show continuing inflation, while wages decline.”

— “During this growing season we are experiencing a severe drought, which will further jeopardize food supplies for the coming winter.”

— “Hospitals are working without the most basic supplies. Families must provide food for patients.”

— “Schools and kindergartens do not have adequate food for children nor needed supplies.”

— “From many parts of the city and surrounding communities, workers’ unions and other groups are coming to us requesting assistance, since they are unable to provide food and clothing for their families.”

“Many people are expressing their discouragement, unable to see how things will get better,” Tosic, a member of First Baptist Church, Belgrade, recounted.

“In spite of these uncertain times, we believe that we are called to act in hope, and to seize opportunities to expand our activities to meet the growing needs, which come to us on a regular basis.”

Bread of Life’s outreach has grown in the midst of the crisis, Tosic wrote.

“Through various programs in distribution centers, schools, preschools, hospitals and various institutions from January to June of 2000 we have helped 72,000 beneficiaries directly,” she wrote of the ministry powered largely by volunteers from about a dozen Belgrade churches.

“Bread of Life carries a lot of weight,” she noted with a touch of humor. “In fact, in the first six months of this year, we have handled 1,816 tons of humanitarian aid, or approximately one-third of all the materials we have handled since we began our work eight years ago.”

Tosic recapped Bread of Life’s work in several areas:

— Distribution of emergency food and clothing. “Emergency assistance continues to be needed by refugee families, as well as an ever-increasing number of local people who do not have adequate income to provide the basics of food and clothing,” Tosic wrote. “We have been blessed with a regular supply of food packages, which have enabled us to distribute more than 10,000 parcels per month for the past six months in Belgrade and over 50 different locations throughout Serbia. That program is now completed, so we are actively exploring new sources of food supplies, in order to continue to meet the needs.”

— Self-support program. “For many months we have been working to build for the future in addition to meeting emergency needs,” Tosic reported, noting that families have been supplied with 260 animals and, by September, 80 tool kits, 20 small greenhouses or 80 other minor renovations to their homes.

“Families have been selected on basis of need, as well as their capacity for making effective use of the resources,” Tosic wrote. “The focus has been on providing a quality resource that actually provides a substantial opportunity. These families not only are appreciative of having a source of milk or eggs, or tools for earning a livelihood, but also [they] speak of the renewal of their hope because of these resources, which allow them to better provide for their own needs.

“Already families are fulfilling the requirement to pass on some of the benefit they have received to other families who have need,” Tosic added.

— Medical supplies. “As we have been making contacts in the community, the severe shortages in our hospitals have become obvious to us,” Tosic wrote. “Patients have had to wait for treatment because they were not able to provide their own gauze, sutures and other basics. We have been grateful for a donor who has enabled us to purchase a supply of medical supplies, which we will be distributing to a number of hospitals. While it is wonderful to be able to share these materials, we are aware that what we have received is only a one-month supply, if spread out carefully, [while] the need … will be ongoing.”

Tosic noted that the provision of such resources:

— “reflects God’s goodness in continuing to provide as we meet the many needs of people all around us.” Tosic voiced praise to God that “we have been able to find a way to continue our work even when regulations are not clear, or change, requiring extra work.”

— “reflects the continued commitment of Christians around the world who faithfully share in our work.” The Southern Baptist Convention’s World Hunger Fund is among Bread of Life’s sources of support.

— “reflects the blessing we have of a committed staff, which work hard to implement the various Bread of Life programs.” Tosic voiced praise to God that “we have been able to move such a large amount of material safely in and out of our warehouse, with only one minor accident in which no one was injured.”

Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns with the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press:

“The ministry of Bread of Life stirs awe and humility in the heart of any believer who visits there. These volunteers’ untiring commitment gives living testimony to God’s faithfulness when we focus on him rather than our circumstances. These champions of the faith have humbly yet boldly stood for Jesus in the face of persecution and in the midst of war. With limited resources but great efficiency, they continue to reach out to those in need with food and the good news of Jesus Christ. …

“It is a privilege to know that the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund plays a part in helping the light of Christ shine brightly in a place where so many are in physical and spiritual need,” Nelson said.

The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund uses 100 percent of all gifts for hunger ministry, with nothing subtracted for administration or promotion. Further information can be obtained by contacting the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at (615) 244-2495 or e-mail via [email protected].

Bread of Life can be contacted at 41 Prote Mateja, 11000 Belgrade, Yugoslavia; e-mail, [email protected]; and telephone, +381 (0) 11 444-35-40.