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Needs multiplying, resources scarce, ministry leader in Serbia reports

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BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (BP)–As the Serbian people face their first winter with a new democratically elected government, evangelicals are scrambling to minister to a nation left nearly bankrupt, according to a key evangelical ministry based in Belgrade.

Jasmina Tosic, co-director of Bread of Life, a ministry that has largely focused on refugee aid during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, laid out a plan to meet the physical and spiritual needs of more than 15,000 Serbian families this winter. The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is among Bread of Life’s sources of support.

But, Tosic wrote in the ministry’s newsletter, Bread of Life has received only a few offers of outside help for the plan.

“We are putting our trust in God and find ourselves continuing as written in Haggai ‘giving careful thought’ about our past and future,” Tosic, a member of First Baptist Church, Belgrade, wrote.

The organization’s winter ministry plan includes:

— a monthly distribution of food and hygiene items.

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— one-time distribution of stoves and firewood, shoes and socks, clothing, underwear, jackets, blankets and bed linens and minor renovations of living accommodations.

— 30 children’s workshops to provide one-time food and hygiene aid and ongoing psychosocial programs for children.

— a home care ministry to provide visits to indigent persons with special needs, particularly health and psychological needs.

— an ongoing self-reliance program that runs alongside the emergency aid program to provide a foundation for the future.

Since a democratic election knocked the nation’s longtime despot Slobodan Milosevic out of power in October, the new government has discovered large budget holes for basic needs like electricity, food and pensions.

And the West has been caught unprepared to offer quick help, The New York Times reported in a November article.

Serbian officials say they need $500 million in energy, food, medicine and pension support to get through the winter.

With the arrival of winter, electricity is currently one of the most vital of those needs. But, The Times reported, Milosevic spent most of those reserves to get through the Sept. 24 election.

According to Tosic in the Bread of Life newsletter, the events of the past year have “brought Bread of Life to a crossroads.” The Serbia people are expecting a dramatic change in the condition of the everyday life but the government has been left with nothing but an empty storage room by the previous government, Tosic wrote.

“We believe the people of Serbia will soon become disillusioned and desperate,” Tosic wrote. “As Christians we find ourselves facing a strategic task this winter to help fill the ‘basic needs’ gap that is widening with every minute. This is not only crucial because of the immense needs but also because it will be a brief opportunity to grasp the disheartened and present them with Christ’s love.”

Tosic also said the new government is trying to decide between establishing a state church or follow the rest of Europe and establish laws guaranteeing more religious freedom.

“For Evangelical Christians there is no question,” Tosic wrote. “Our present concern is whether authority can be established quickly enough as we desire to see this happen without major unrest and disturbance. Our people need peace, a chance to rebuild their lives honestly, better opportunities for work and spiritual awakening and revival.”

Despite the major humanitarian crisis caused by the recent change of government, Tosic praised God for the peaceful transition of power in Serbia.

But she considers the peaceful situation in Serbia to be delicate.

“For the moment it is calm here, yet we consider our present condition fragile,” Tosic wrote. “We hope that you, our friends, will join us in prayer for the efforts of our new government and the people of Yugoslavia.”

Bread of Life began in 1992 after Tosic quit her administrative job at a meat-packing plant in Belgrade and moved into a room in First Baptist Church to begin planning refugee ministry strategies with co-leader Beba Varga from Croatia.

The ministry can receive donations, made out to SBC World Hunger Fund/Bread of Life, mailed to Office of Finance, International Mission Board, Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund has opened doors for thousands of war victims to receive desperately needed food and to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Through this bold ministry of faith, many have come to realize that even in the midst of trials, Jesus saves and changes hearts.”

Bread of Life can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]
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Perry is a freelance writer in Wenatchee, Wash.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.com. Photo title: JASMINA TOSIC