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Refugee ministry in Belgrade, Serbia, declares, ‘WE ARE STILL HERE&#8


BELGRADE, Serbia (BP)–“WE ARE STILL HERE,” an evangelical ministry in Belgrade, Serbia, announced in July.
And: “Serbia faces a catastrophe this winter,” wrote Jasmina Tosic, co-director of Bread of Life, a ministry which has largely focused on refugee aid during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, encompassing the efforts of several dozen volunteers from 11 Belgrade churches. Evangelicals in Belgrade number no more than 2,000 among its 2 million people.
“We thank God for the end of the NATO-Serbian-Kosovo war,” Tosic, a member of First Baptist Church, Belgrade, wrote in an e-mail newsletter. The NATO bombing of Serbia and Serb targets in the remainder of Yugoslavia began March 24 and ended June 20.
“We grieve for the destruction of so many lives” — thousands in Serbia and thousands in Kosovo, Tosic wrote. “Words cannot express our sorrow. After yet another tragic war in the Balkans, little can be said other than to cry out for spiritual renewal and moral transformation.”
Of this winter’s looming catastrophe, Tosic echoed the words of Red Cross officials: “… without urgent action there is a real possibility of starvation among the elderly and very poor in Serbia,” which now, like Kosovo, also has a severe refugee crisis, but one that “nobody wants to know [about].”
“The facts are clear: [T]he weak pre-war economy has been devastated through the bombing,” Tosic wrote. “In the whole country, only one bridge over the Danube survived the bombing. Major industries have been destroyed. Infrastructure such as electrical power plants have been destroyed. Estimates are that 500,000 have lost their jobs. Pensions and wages to public workers are still not being paid.
“Over 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia have still not been able to return home. In the last four weeks [as of mid-July], over a hundred thousand have been displaced from Kosovo. Government officials will not reveal how many people (primarily Serbs and Romas) have fled Kosovo for other parts of Yugoslavia.”
Of Bread of Life, founded in 1992, Tosic wrote, “We are here. We know. We cannot turn away from the material and spiritual needs. … Like Jesus who came to light up a dark world, we must provide practical spiritual and material help that transforms souls and points to a better future. In Yugoslavia’s [c]ommunist days, words became meaningless. Now, only concrete acts of compassion can convince people of the possibility of a spiritual transformation.”
Of Bread of Life’s aspirations in the midst of Serbia’s devastation, Tosic noted, “Previously, the most families we cared for was 4,000 families a month. Now, we want to double that number to 8,000 families a month.”
Specific ministry goals include:
— “a winter survival program for the elderly and mothers with children who won’t have heating because of bombing damages. We want to provide wood-burning stoves and firewood to the most vulnerable people. Also, we want to provide heavy blankets and winter clothes.”
— repair of homes of carefully selected needy families before winter and of schools damaged by NATO bombs.
— the launching of enterprises to help unemployed, indigent refugees generate income. Among Bread of Life’s current programs are a sewing workshop and a marketing cooperative for artistic card-makers.
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.
Via e-mail, Bread of Life can be contacted at [email protected]
“During the bombing,” Tosic recounted, “we managed — despite the constant interruptions of air-raid warnings — to distribute aid to the elderly refugees and very vulnerable residents.”
Tosic said Bread of Life has been cut off from forwarding aid to Kosovo, however, since the start of NATO bombing in March.
“Before the bombing, part of our ministry involved reaching out to all ethnic groups in Kosovo,” Tosic wrote. “ Most of our ministry had involved helping the elderly refugees from Croatia and Bosnia who were not able to return home. In the past year, despite the war between the Serbian police and the Kosovo Liberation Army, we still managed to deliver 97 metric tons (213,400 pounds) of material aid to that region. … The very day NATO began bombing, we had finally completed the paperwork for yet another 10 metric tons of aid to Kosovo.
“Since NATO has taken control of Kosovo, there is still no chance for Christians from Belgrade to visit Kosovo. But, to be honest, we are so overwhelmed with the problems around us that it would be difficult to renew our ministry in Kosovo,” Tosic wrote.
In 1992, Bread of Life began after Tosic quit her administrative job with a meat packing organization and moved into a small room of First Baptist Church to begin planning refugee ministry strategies with co-leader Beba Varga, a Serb from Croatia — in a friendship that had blossomed in a small prayer group in 1985, spanning common Serbian-Croatian political boundaries.