Today, let me tell you the story of a little city in Bosnia called Varesh.
Varesh is located in a mountain valley about one hour north of Sarajevo, Bosnia. During the cold war and the height of Yugoslavia, Varesh numbered over 25,000 people. At the heart of the city was a thriving mill that employed a majority of the population. Today, that building sits cold and empty. Unemployment is as high as 80%, and the numbers of the city have dwindled down to around 8,000.
The local residents call this place the forgotten city. After the Balkan war, many nations and much foreign aid arrived in the larger cities to help rebuild. But not in Varesh. No one came to help. No aid came for repairs. The city was left to itself to slowly rebuild from a horrific ethnic clash. The Bosnian war left them divided, depressed, and with little hope that the future will be any better. The road to this city feels more like winding back alley that may just as soon dead end and go over a cliff than it does a highway to Varesh.
But with God, no place, no city, is every forgotten. About four years ago, a Christians couple from Zenitca, Mario and Dana (pronounced Day-anna) felt called to come and help this area. As they prayed over the city and looked to God for direction, they noticed a group of kids who would stand around for several hours after school. These kids lived in some of the 40 villages beyond Varesh. If the city is "forgotten", imagine how the villages feel. There is one bus that connects some (not all) of these villages to Varesh. One bus in, one bus back. The bus doesn't leave until after 3. School is out some days as early as noon. God put it on Mario and Dana's heart to reach out to these kids as they waited.
They found a space in the city and began inviting the kids in to do crafts, play games, and have a hot meal. (Many of these kids would eat only twice a day- a breakfast before leaving home early in the morning for school, and dinner late in the evening when they arrived home.) Slowly but surely, relationships are being built. One by one, Mario and Dana visit the homes of these children- Muslims by ethnic background- and explain what they are doing, as well as offer a prayer for the family. In some of these homes and villages, Mario and Dana believe this is the first time the name of Jesus has ever been spoken or heard. Families are becoming curious about why someone would care about them in these forgotten villages. Over 20 kids come daily to be blessed by Mario and Dana.
Though it is illegal in Bosnia to proselytize children, Mario and Dana pray for opportunities to answer questions and direct the kids to the hope they have in Christ. One day, a group of about 10 kids (the largest class coming to their center by far) came in asking for Bibles! Their teacher of Islamic Studies told them in class that every good Muslim should have a Bible and read it daily! Bibles that had been sitting on a shelf were suddenly in the hands, and the homes, of these 10 kids. God works in amazing ways here in Varesh.
Mario and Dana have been meeting with local government leaders, who have given them a wide-open door to preach the gospel and even start a church. "Do whatever you want", the Bosnian and Croat leaders say, "just help our people." So one at a time, God is beginning to build his church here.
And one by one, God is bringing people to His name. An older lady, who grew up in a family of Muslim priests, had taken care of a woman who was a Christian and had given her a Bible. When she met Mario and Dana, she asked questions she had since reading it, and shortly after gave her life to Christ.
Another Varesh resident had gone to Germany for a job, and there become a Christian. When she returned to Varesh, she found this small evangelical church and began to plug in.
A Muslim man came and asked them about what they are doing in his city. For over two hours he sat and asked questions about Christianity. At the end, he said he felt a warmth all over his body and a certainty that Christ was the one true way, and he surrendered his heart to Jesus.
God is at work in this valley! Will you join me in praying for the people of Varesh? Recently, the Alliance did a fund-raising campaign to purchase property so a church could be built, and almost three times the amount needed came in! Pray that God would lead Mario and Dana to just the right place. Pray for Mark and Kathy Eikost as they walk alongside this couple and help plant the church. Pray for the 10 Muslim kids who received Bibles. Pray for the families whom Mario and Dana visit in the villages. Pray that this forgotten city would become a light to the country of Bosnia. For our God has a way of turning valleys of dry bones into springs of living water. May living water course down the hills into Sarajevo and the cities beyond.
Thanks for praying!