Listen … listen … you can hear the tinkling of the bells from across the valley. It is springtime and the weather is bad but the shepherd continues to watch over his flock … caring for them as he does every day. In some places, there seems to be more rock than grass for his sheep, but soon the grass will grow tall and the sheep’s heavy coat will be cut. The village residents will use most of the wool. Time and the elements seem to have little effect on those who continue this honorable profession. It is a lonely, solitary job. His dog is the only companion during the day. As night falls, … the foraging done, … they all head to a home high in the hills.
Time seems to have stood still in the mountain villages of Bosnia. Yet, many of the sheet metal roofs are rusty now … not necessarily due to age but because the metal was salvaged from the time when the village was burned during the 1991 to 1995 war. Throughout the countryside, the Orthodox Serbs destroyed the mostly Muslim villages. Progressing toward Sarajevo, the army laid waste to everything in its path. Those remaining in the villages buried their dead, salvaged what they could of their homes, rebuilt, and continued their now broken lives in the only way they knew. The graveyards remind them of the horrific past but in the forest, … the warnings of the land mines mark the danger faced daily by both people and livestock. The enemy is subdued but his legacy remains.
Springtime comes late in the high elevations. It is mid-May and snow is still on the surrounding mountain peaks. A few small haystacks that were not used during the winter remain in the fields. Manure that accumulated in the barns has been cleaned out and is ready to be spread on the fields and gardens. Some gardens are already prepared waiting their turn for planting. In others, the seeds for new growth are carefully placed one-by-one in the fertile mountain soil. The small plots of land are cultivated much as they were centuries ago.
Many of the villages are built along steep hillsides or on a saddle between two mountain peaks where the air is clear and crisp. It seems that homes are situated so that the surrounding mountains can be viewed in a breathtaking panorama of God’s creation. While the beauty is unsurpassed, the danger for the unaware is all around. Some roads wind around the hillsides and are not safe for automobiles. Foot trails are so close to the edge that a slip could be life-threatening. In these villages, there are no busy streets. Most of the traffic is animals or people as they walk from place to place. Here, there are few cars … fewer still that actually can be depended upon.
Water is always available and free. Most often it is piped down from springs higher up in the hills. Some must carry water for their use. Others have water faucets in their homes.
Traditional dress is still common in the villages. The handmade wool pants and a knitted sweater worn by most women has been the style for hundreds of years. The traditional Muslim scarf worn by the women also serves to ward off the bitter cold wind. Shoes are left at the door and heavy, beautifully designed wool knit socks are worn inside. Spinning yarn from the sheep’s wool is a process that requires little equipment but a large investment in time.
Giving visitors a warm welcome is a long tradition. Villagers are usually friendly and complete strangers are invited in for coffee. Coffee in Bosnia is an important part of life. … strong, Turkish coffee … enjoyed with a family member, a friend, a coworker, a stranger. The coffee ritual is followed carefully. The beans are ground and added with boiling water to the small metal container. It is gently stirred until the top layer of coffee turns a cream color before pouring into a round, small cup. Unless you leave a small amount in the bottom, your cup will be refilled numerous times. Usually, it is the wife’s responsibility to serve the coffee but, today, she is tending the sheep and her husband graciously performs the task.
Life for the villagers is hard but the warmth of a home is the comfort that makes the hardships bearable. Inside the homes, the rooms are small. The fellowship is close and genuine in a style that honors the guests and family alike.
The face of the grandfather still shows the agony of the time past and the uncertainty of the future but the grandchildren … they have not known war. They are the ones upon whom the future is bestowed. Will they follow the path of their grandparents? … of their parents? Will these mountain villages fade away and cease to exist? There are few young people remaining here.
In these villages, most are Muslim but there is no mosque or daily call to prayer as in the cities. Nevertheless, they hang on to their beliefs that have been passed down through the generations. Few have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In lower elevations, the grass is already tall and cows leisurely forage for food in the pasture. The work of weeding and tending the garden continues. Daily life is somewhat different in these villages. The shepherd takes his flock down the road to a new pasture with fences that confine the animals. His horse is his companion. Nearby is a sawmill. Lumber is cut much as it was in the United States 50 to 75 years ago. Here, like in the higher elevations, people are friendly and eager to share what they have even if it is only to photograph the sawmill owner with his horse.
The lower elevation villages are more modern than those in the mountains. They have many up-to-date conveniences. Homes are larger and cars and trucks are common. Mosques and churches are located in most of the villages. Some are old and in need of repair but they quickly remind the visitor of the persistent Islamic influence that grips the people.
The villages of Bosnia … small or large … in the mountains or in the lowlands … need to hear about Jesus. It
is up to us … those who know Jesus … to share a different way … to share the love of Jesus with those that live in the villages of Bosnia. Won’t you come and tell these children, … these parents, … and these grandparents about Jesus?
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