Bosnians Find 'Prototype' to Heal Divided Nation

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina -- It was a short 16 years ago when sniper fire echoed through the streets of Bosnia. Serbs, Croats, and Muslims were killing each other because of ethnic and religious differences.

Today there is peace but the country is still divided. Bosnia's evangelical Christians are trying to bridge the fault lines.

Church as 'Prototype'

Sasa Nikolinovic calls the evangelical church the one place where all Bosnians can find forgiveness.

"The church is a prototype of something special that God is doing in Bosnia," said Nikolinovic, who pastors the Evangelical Church of Sarajevo in Bosnia's capital city.

It was in this exact spot back in 1984 that Sarajevo held the opening ceremonies to the Olympic Games.

Today it is filled with thousands of people -- victims of the Bosnian war. And in reality, this is what the tiny evangelical church has to deal with -- trying to bring healing and reconciliation to a nation that is bitterly divided by the acts of war.

"The politicians are trying to bring us together, the world is trying to bring us together, humanitarian groups are trying to bring us together," Nikolinovic said.

"But it is only in the church where real fellowship, real community and real reconciliation is possible," he said.

Spirit of Unity

Nikolinovic's church sits in the heart of Sarajevo. On any given Sunday morning you will find Croats, Serbs, and former Muslims worshipping under one roof.

During a recent service, that unity was on dramatic display when a Muslim convert to Christianity and a couple from Serb and Croat backgrounds publicly declared their faith in Jesus Christ by getting baptized.

"This is my way of showing the world that I belong to Jesus Christ, Dalibor Krunic said.

"We are from different backgrounds but it is God who unites us," Jelena Krunic said.

"Today I have found what it means to be happy," Meri Hukara a convert from Islam, said.

Legacy of War Lingers

Unity is what this country desperately needs to move forward. Sixteen years later, remains of those killed during Bosnia's brutal war are still being recovered.

As cities like Sarajevo try to recover, these images still haunt them all these years later.

The reminders of hatred are everywhere. And the legacy of crimes committed still hang heavy over the nation.

"I remember during the height of the war there were less than 20 evangelical believers left in the country, everyone else fled," Nikolinovic said.

"But during those hard times, God still poured His Spirit on us," he said. "I know Christians around the world watching the horrific images from Bosnia were praying for us and it is only because of those prayers that we survived."

Rising Chorus

The church has grown significantly since then but still represents a tiny percentage of the population.

"There are between 700 and 1,000 evangelical believers in all of Bosnia," Karmelo Kresonja, who leads the Evangelical Church of Mostar, said. "This is a very small number and that's because it is not easy to share the message of Christ with people."

The majority of Bosnians are Orthodox, Catholic, or Muslim. Evangelical Christians are viewed with suspicion.

Bernard Mikulic pastors the only congregation in the country that has an official building designated as an evangelical church.

"People in the community didn't like it when the church was being built. We got routine threats," Mikulic said. "There were all kinds of graffiti scrawled on the church walls."

Srdan Milenovic was one of those who thought evangelical Christians were weird and potentially dangerous. 

But his opinion changed when the former drug addict got an invitation to attend a Christian camp.

"There was something about these people that I found very attractive," Milenovic said.

"I saw different ethnic groups worshipping God and they were happy. I wanted this, too," he said. "I gave my heart to the Lord and eventually was set free from drugs."

Damir Beki is a young pastor working among Muslims in the north. He said overcoming the wounds of the past is difficult.

"I live in a city where the majority of the Muslims during the war were tortured, put in concentration camps, and killed by so-called ethnic Christians," Beki said.

"So we face the challenge of how to share the message of Christ to a community that has a hard time trusting evangelicals," he said.

Rumors of War?

Just spend a few minutes on the streets of Bosnia and people remember.

They remember the horrors of the war. They remember the reign of terror that struck every corner of this nation.

And now Bosnians worry that unchecked and unresolved ethnic tensions could spark another war. Something Christians here are praying will never happen.

"We have to pray and work harder to show people that reconciliation is a powerful message that comes from God," Mikulic said.

"Reconciliation first with God through Jesus Christ then reconciliation with one another," he added.

"I pray Second Chronicles 7:14 every day over my nation," Kresonja said. "We have to humble ourselves, deny our pride, deny our stubbornness, deny our ethnic divisions, our religious differences and turn to God, then He will heal us."

"I want my country to be filled with the awareness and knowledge of God," Nikolinovic said.

"I'm praying that Bosnia will know a good God who loves us, a God who forgives us, a God who does not see the differences between ethnic groups, but a God who sent His only Son to the world to die for our sins," he said. "This is my hope and prayer."

*Originally aired Oct. 28, 2011.

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CBN News
George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

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