N.J. Lutherans on mission to help kids in BOSNIA


In Bosnia between a half million and 3 million landmines are still in the ground. Every month, children are wounded or killed by the mines. In some schools visited by the team, between 60 percent and 80 percent of the children are orphaned from the war. Many were born in refugee or concentration camps.


(09.06.2006)

On a Friday night in November 1992, Jason Reed was driving home from work in Springfield, Va., while listening to a National Public Radio news report. The broadcast that night was like any other L Halfway around the world, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 400,000 people were in danger of dying that winter because the war made it too difficult for people to get supplies.

The 26-year-old Lutheran youth pastor didn't even know where the country was. But the next day, he almost quit his job to go into the war zone to help.

Instead, he enlisted the help of his church youth group to start projects and become educated about what was needed. Two years later, with the ethnic war still raging in Bosnia, Reed took a five-week leave of absence from his job and spent that time volunteering at a refugee camp in Croatia, about one hour away from the Bosnian border.

It was the first of many more trips to come.

Today, Reed coordinates a traveling team of volunteers from the New Jersey Synod of the Lutheran (ELCA) Church. Since 2000, the team has spent two weeks in Bosnia each summer, running day-long friendship camps at local schools for the children who survived the war.

One other group from the United States works with the orphanages in Bosnia and Montenegro. The New Jersey Synod's team is a partner with Training Workshops International for the Children, a Springfield, Va.-based nonprofit founded in 1996.

On June 17, Reed and a team of 26 people are leaving from their base in Hainesport for Bosnia, lugging 50 to 60 bags full of supplies and gifts for the children. They will live with host families for part of the time and will drive from city to city, staying at hotels and homes along the way.

Reed says one of three Bosnian children still suffer from severe trauma due to the war, which ended 10 years ago.

Between a half million and 3 million landmines are still in the ground. Every month, children are wounded or killed by the mines. In some schools visited by the team, between 60 percent and 80 percent of the children are orphaned from the war. Many were born in refugee or concentration camps.

In some communities, suicide rates among adults and children are high. The war trauma manifests itself in different ways. Some children engage in at-risk behavior. Some isolate themselves, shutting down communication and withdrawing from others.

Jenn Berryann, 23, of Marlton visited Bosnia three years ago and still recalls the stories of her 20-something interpreter. The woman, a Muslim, described living in fear as a refugee child in her own city of Sarajevo.

"She had to run for water and avoid sniper fire and risk her own life just for everyday cooking water and (water for) brushing their teeth," said Berryann, who will leave on the Bosnia mission trip next week.

Though peace has followed the war, the country still suffers from ethnic divisions. That's why there is a need for the friendship camps.

The travel teams spend six hours at each school they visit. They give out bandanas to the kids, who are broken up into four groups. Each group rotates through four different activities: music therapy, art therapy, noncompetitive physical games and a story time.

Each child will receive a hand-painted tote bag containing crayons, a pen, a hug pillow and some temporary tattoos.

"We're trying to combat the hopelessness and the sense that they don't matter," said Reed, a Mount Holly resident who now works as a youth ministry specialist for the synod.

The team members will split into two groups and conduct 17 camps. They plan to reach 2,500 children during their two-week visit this month. They are going despite the fact they are $22,000 short. Only six camps are sponsored so far. It costs $2,000 to sponsor each camp.

The war has left deep wounds and Reed still worries about the country's future.

"I am so concerned that the war is going to start up there again in another 10 to 20 years," said Reed. "There's a great fear it's going to be rekindled. The peace agreement left a lot of things poorly taken care of, so not only are we going to heal the wounds of the last war and hope for a future, we're also trying to build peace there so it doesn't start again."

Berryann could have asked her church, Holy Communion Lutheran in Berlin, to sponsor her trip. She asked the congregation to help support the mission instead. The aspiring high school teacher and her family are sharing her traveling cost, about $2,300.

She isn't going without a healthy dose of fear.

"It is scary," Berryann said. "I have seen a lot of hate that is scary, but I just feel as Christians that we're called to go and do this. I think about the wars and the front lines. I think this is very similar, but in an opposite way."

Wars in other parts of the world distress Reed now more than ever.

"Every year for me, the prayer for peace just becomes more and more of a cry," said Reed. "You can't visit a concentration camp in Bosnia or the site of a memorial for a massacre and not try to live a life that's going to prevent this from happening in every other country throughout the world." Keeping the Faith looks at religion and spirituality in South Jersey. The column appears on Saturdays. Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 251-3342 or kmulford@courierpostonline.com.

Von: 10.06.2006, http://www.courierpostonline.com

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