Why was it built?
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                       28 Jan 2008


In the Balkans, … in the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Herz go VEE na) and on the eastern edge of the capital city of Sarajevo (sara YAY vo), … is a bridge made of concrete and steel.  This bridge was constructed several years ago and financed by international aid money.  On one end is a small faded foot trail.  On the other is a sheer granite wall.  This bridge will never be used.  Why was it built?

 Unlike this monument to nowhere and for nobody, there are many well-placed bridges, tunnels, and highways in this country.  They go through the mountainsides, over the hills, and across the rivers and ravines.  They carry people and produce from one community to another all the while making it easier to visit those in another city or another country.

 2000 years ago the Romans built bridges and roads across their empire; an empire, which included much of the Balkans.  The bridges, built of stone and mortar, made it possible to quickly mobilize the Roman army and, thus, control the people of this land.  These bridges have often been expanded and repaired.  Today, some remain in use, but a different fate … just a dim outline … is all that remains of the ancient Roman villas and government buildings.  In some places, pieces of the past are unceremoniously scattered in the fields.  They appear as broken tombstones that mark the footsteps of a once great empire.

 The Romans also brought the Catholic Church and, … it is this institution that remains.  There are Catholic Churches in Bosnia, in Croatia, and in Montenegro as well as the other Balkan countries. However, much of its power and influence has been lost to other religions and ethnic groups.  The Catholic Church, once a bridge that led to Rome, was severely damaged by the power of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople.  About 1000 years ago these Churches split, and today this schism has grown into walls that define country boundaries setting one group of people against another.

 About 600 years ago the Ottoman Turks entered the scene.  They repaired many of the Roman bridges and roads enabling them to control the Balkans much as the Romans had done earlier.  More importantly, they brought Islam to this land forcing its belief system onto much of the population through coercion and intimidation.  This process resulted in a significant growth of Islam as conversions grew and flourished during the 400 years of Turkish control.  Mosques sporting their tall minarets replaced the churches, temples and cathedrals.  The Ottoman Turks proceeded to build forts and walls to protect themselves and their empire from those they considered infidels.  In some places, the walls continue to define the boundaries in residential areas. 

 Today, the walls are crumbling, the rock and mortar bridges have been replaced by concrete and steel and the tunnels are now wider and taller. Yet, there are few bridges that cross the barriers that exist between the three major religious groups.  The groups have become countries.  For example, Croatia claims Catholicism as its religion, Montenegro claims to be Orthodox, and Bosnia is dominated by the Muslims.

 The people in the Balkan countries have always been strongly influenced by forces outside their borders.  Conflicts seem to be endless and, in the past century, these conflicts have taken on world-class significance.  World War I was started due to an assassination near the bridge crossing the Miljacka River (mill YAH kah) in Sarajevo.  Once again, during World War II, the Balkans was the scene of bitter partisan fighting.  After the War, most of the Balkans was unified as Yugoslavia.  On the other hand, this bridge of unification was a facade held together by the dictatorial powers of Marshall Tito.

 The 1984 Winter Olympics was held in and around Sarajevo.  The Balkans appeared to be peaceful ... a place of tranquility.  Nevertheless, just seven short years later, the Olympic Village, … located on Mount Igman, … was destroyed by another ethnic conflict.  This time it was a three-way war between the Orthodox Serbs, the Catholic Croats, and the Bosnian Muslims.  The bridges, city streets, office buildings, and homes turned into killing fields as the Serbs laid siege to Sarajevo.  Tens of thousands of people were massacred during the three-years of senseless brutality.  The international community observed the carnage but little was done to reign in the extremely powerful and well-equipped Serb army.  During this horrific time, a secret tunnel was built under the airport runway by the Bosnian army to provide a lifeline, … a bridge, … which circumvented the wall of international indifference to the besieged city.  

 An uneasy peace was finally established in the mid-1990s and most of the city has been restored but the scars of war, the ethnic and religious hatred remain.  The bridges and tunnels built for commerce … built to make it easier to allow people to go from one place to another … have little effect on the relationships between these groups.

 It seems that these peoples are like the bridge without a road – they remain isolated in a crowd.  They wear garments to display this difference.  They build expensive edifices that are islands unto themselves.  Only those who belong can cross bridges to these islands.

 These school children have never been part of a war.  They are from various ethnic and religious groups all singing the same song.  They are the future of Bosnia but as history is our guide, they too will mature into adults that hang onto religious and ethnic animosity.  The bridges made in their youth will fail.

 A new kind of bridge is needed … a bridge that circumvents the walls all around.  The bridge must be in the hearts and minds of people. 

 Pray that someday people will say, “Why were the tall minarets of the mosques built?”  …  Pray that like the walls of Jericho, these walls will come tumbling down.  … Pray that the people of Bosnia will discover that Jesus is the only way … the only bridge to God.


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