Sunday, April 5, 2009

Croatia & Bosnia-Herzegovina October 2008

In October, we met with our humanitarian couple, Elder & Sister Mills in Zagreb, Croatia before they left to go home from their mission. They’re from Battle Mountain, Nevada, and yes, they know our daughter and son-in-law, Coni Jo and Walter. Small world. Since the Mills’ replacement would not arrive for another month, they took us to meet the organizations they’ve worked with for the past two years. LDS Church/Charities is currently involved in two projects with the Red Cross: a 250 wheelchairs distribution and a clean water project. We had the opportunity to meet Marinko and Danimir, the Red Cross coordinators of the two projects. The water project is particularly troubling and disturbing. During the war with Serbia in the 1990s, 10,000 wells were contaminated with arsenic, discarded arsenal, fertilizers and the disposal of bodies. During the early part of October, the Red Cross was still discovering bodies in the wells. The Church Humanitarian service is helping to fund the cleanup of the last 1/3, or 3500 wells. Farming communities in eastern Croatia near the Serbian border are the wells most affected by contamination.

While shrapnel and bullet wounds mark many buildings in Croatia, the signs of war are gradually disappearing with new paint and stucco.
Croatia attracts about 10,000 tourists a year, mostly along the coastline. There are ancient Roman ruins and a long history. The average income is about $1200 a month with a registered unemployment 17%-35%, highest near the Serbian borders. And, though income is relatively low, prices are not. The price of clothes and shoes are comparable with well developed, Western Europe. The people of Croatia hope that their impending acceptance into the European Union will help their country and economy.

Like most of Europe, the heart of the Croatian culture is its marketplace. This is a typical Saturday Market.

LDS Branch members currently attend church in a turn-of-the-century building. They will soon relocate to a new building about 10 minutes outside of central Zagreb. The location is near train tracks and bus lines, making it easy for members to commute.

B O S N I A - H E R Z E G O V I N A

We were in Zagreb the same week as Missionary Zone Conference and had the opportunity to meet with President Hill, the Mission President. President Hills’ mission area covers the former Yugoslavia nations. They are all post-communist, post-war countries. And many are still declaring their independence. Among the countries he is responsible for are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. At present, we have missionaries in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia—with a humanitarian couple in Croatia, and another couple returning soon to Serbia. Pres. Hill shared with us his impressions of Bosnia and suggested we visit there to evaluate the area for humanitarian service. A few days later, we rented a car and drove to Tuzla, Bosnia to check out the conditions there for future humanitarian work. As we crossed the border and passed the check-points, we experienced the lingering effects of war. Landmine signs lined the road side--reminders of war and dangerous work still ahead. In addition to the obvious problems mines create, the inability to farm the land and the fear experienced by refugees to return home, still plague the countryside. Clearing landmines is a slow, tedious process— involving the Red Cross and help from other nations.

More than 120,000 Bosnics died in the short war of the 1990s. Nearly half were Muslims—killed in an attempted ethnic cleansing.

Today, Christians and Muslims share the country 50/50. As we drove from one village to another, we could determine the religious population of the town by what stipple climbed into the sky. Seldom were both present in the same village.

We had planned to meet with the Red Cross in Tuzla, but soon learned that there are no telephone books in the whole city of 160,000 people. So we had to stop several times to get directions. Finally, we were led down a street, pass a round-about, turned to the left, drove into a parking lot, parked the car, and followed a kind man (humm) down another street until we saw the Red Cross sign. Eventually, we met Tanja and Jedranka, the local Red Cross manager and assistant. Tanja spoke to us in English, and Jedranka tried. Both women smiled a lot.

We quickly learned, however, that the scars of war are deep and personal. These women, like so many others, suffered the devastating sorrows of war— Tanja as a child. They are now dedicated to helping their country recover from its sad memories and wounds. We visited with Tanja and Jedrank for two hours, and felt a close bond of friendship develop with them both. We left the Red Cross with plans to return and a great desire to help the Church LDS Chairties partner a project with them. We’ll return, with or without another humanitarian couple, to partner a wheelchair project for the Tuzla area.

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