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WMU-IMB partnership in Bosnia builds foundation for church planting outreach


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BP)–Normalcy is returning to war-torn Sarajevo. New construction is everywhere. People are out and about going to work, shopping and enjoying each other’s company at sidewalk coffee shops. Children are full of laughter and life.

Today’s Sarajevo is very different from three years ago when Woman’s Missionary Union leaders made their first visit to the southeastern European city. The cease-fire in the country was only a few months old. Destruction was everywhere.

“Bosnians were very solemn,” recalled Mary Jo Troughton of Lenexa, Kansas, a member of the WMU survey team that visited Sarajevo in March 1997. “Nothing had been repaired except for new red tile roofs. Ninety-five percent of the deaths then were a result of suicide. There was no hope, no forgiveness.”

Troughton returned to Sarajevo July 5-15 as a member of one of the last two teams WMU will send into the country as a part of its partnership with International Mission Board personnel there.

The team on which Troughton served focused on prayerwalking. Other team members were Laura Savage, adult consultant for WMU, SBC, team leader; and Marilyn Hess of Dorr, Mich. The second team led a children’s Bible camp and included Delana Russell of Anniston, Ala., and a copy editor at WMU, SBC; Ruth McConnell of Elizabethtown, Ky.; and Tanya Dawson*, communications specialist for WMU, SBC, team leader.

“As we drove from the Sarajevo airport to the WMU house, I was silent,” Troughton recounted. “I could see that God had been good to Sarajevo. Rebuilding was evident. Bosnians were everywhere, smiling, laughing and talking.

“He is definitely at work there,” she concluded. “The things that have happened and are happening in Bosnia are beyond anything that the task force could have dreamed. But God’s timing and plan is perfect.”

The task force to which Troughton referred is the Project HELP: Violence task force that she has chaired since 1996. The task force developed the plans for Project HELP: Violence, which has been WMU’s social issue emphasis since October 1998. The emphasis ends Sept. 30.

WMU’s partnership with IMB personnel in Bosnia-Herzegovina was part of the task force’s recommendations.

“We [the task force] were fearful that volunteers would not come through,” she said, “but we finally decided that God’s presence was so evident, this must be his chosen country.”

Her fears were stirred again when she visited the country. “The authorities we spoke to said that the people were very suspicious of ‘do-gooders’ because they promise they will be back to do this or that, but don’t come back,” she recounted. “It was my personal message to WMU and myself that we HAD to follow through. Many prayers went up regarding this project.”

The prayers were answered, she and others said.

More than 100 volunteers participated in missions projects in the country. In addition to the teams identified above, other teams did construction, led Bible clubs for children and provided medical services. The teams have worked in Sarajevo, Tzula and Zenevetze.

“The volunteers have been high caliber,” said Diane Crisp, who with her husband, Norman, served as on-site volunteer coordinators for the WMU-IMB partnership. “It has been wonderful to see in two weeks’ time how the Lord can move in a group of volunteers and build a fire that has never been quenched.”

“And the volunteers had good experiences because they all want to come back,” Norman added, noting that many of the volunteers did make return visits.

Central to the success of the WMU-IMB partnership were the Crisps, said Troughton and Wanda Lee, WMU executive director. The Crisps, of Longview, Texas, completed their assignment in Sarajevo and returned to the States July 17.

“Diane and Norman were definitely God’s chosen people for the task,” Troughton said. “They took on more than we ever imagined, coordinating the missions teams and helping the missionaries in numerous ways.”

“Diane and Norman are truly instruments of peace,” said Lee, who led a medical missions team to Sarajevo in August 1999. “They made all who entered their home feel accepted and loved. And they were deeply loved in return, especially by the Bosnians and IMB personnel of all ages.”

Todd Golden, IMB strategy coordinator for Sarajevo, agreed.

“Norman and Diane did an excellent job,” he said. “They were not just coordinators of volunteers. They identified the needs, developed the requests and assigned the teams. They have been invaluable to the work here in Bosnia, especially to the personnel.”

Golden said that the WMU partnership helped prepare Sarajevo for the next step in Baptist work there, which is transitioning from a humanitarian aid-based to a church planting-based ministry.

“The WMU partnership has provided the foundation on which we can walk,” Golden said. “Fruit will remain well beyond the partnership.”

WMU members can still be involved in the ministry in Bosnia, Golden said, explaining that the team’s strategy is built on prayer support. One goal is to have a prayerwalking team in the city each month of 2001.

Delane Tew, director of WMU’s Volunteer Connection and the stateside coordinator for the partnership, believes WMU’s affinity for the country will not end soon.

“Our membership in general has been touched as they have listened to the testimonies of volunteers and read in WMU’s publications about the partnership,” Tew said. “WMU’s official partnership with Bosnia will soon end, but the emotional partnership will live on for a long time.”
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*Name changed for security concerns.

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  • Tanya Dawson*