Copyright ©1998 by Dan Philgreen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
While tearing down equipment at the end of the Campus Crusade biennial conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, I heard about a possible shoot in Bosnia that someone was wanting done. It was to be some months in the future. I traveled all the next day with my wife Esther from Colorado to my parents' home in Chicago where my kids were staying while we were at the conference. The morning after that, soon after I woke up on Friday, the phone rang. It was pastor John Rowell in Atlanta. He told me about all that his church was involved with in Bosnia and could I go shoot there tomorrow? He said I'd be with locals who would keep me away from the trouble spots. Well, I said I just couldn't possibly be ready to go by the next day. Equipment had to be flown in from Florida and Colorado, but 48 hours later, on Sunday, I was on a plane out of O'Hare on my way to a war zone. I photocopied a map out of the encyclopedia before I left. Of course it said Yugoslavia on it. I wanted to see where these strange sounding cities of Mostar and Tuzla were that John said I'd be going to. Cities I'd never heard of before. (But would become well known in the US within a few months.) Turns out they were very close to a city that I HAD heard of: Sarajevo. That made my heart skip a beat. Lots of things were blowing up in Sarajevo at the time. Not a really healthy environment. Oh boy. Adventure, here I come.
July 31, 1995, 3:45PM
I'm on the ground in Split, Croatia having transfered at Zagreb. I was supposed to meet Bill Smith and Janice Freytag at Zagreb, but did not meet them and there's nobody here. So, it's getting interesting. Pastor John Rowell, who was going to come on this trip, but at the last minute did not come, was the one who organized everything. I called him from JFK in New York and he had to get off the phone because there was some problem. I'm taking it that the problem has resulted in the others not making their plane. I wasn't told anything about the contact here who is supposed to drive us to Mostar, so I'll just stand here by the arrivals and look conspicuous.
I was up all night prepping equipment and getting financial paperwork taken care of at home so, I was really tired. I woke up on the leg from Chicago to New York one time. I looked out and recognized lake Erie. I could look back and see Gross Ile island in the mouth of the Detroit River, the Gross Ile airport, and the very runway that I soloed off of. That was kinda neat.
At New York they had double-booked my seat. I volunteered to move and they put me up in business class, so I had a very comfortable seat and was able to sleep for about four hours on the flight over the ocean. About the first half of that flight, though, I was talking to the young woman sitting next to me named Uta. She was an American, but born and raised and lived all her life in Germany. She lives in Wiesbaden, not far from Frankfurt. She is an atheist, but we had quite a conversation. I had the chance to share the gospel with her and had a friendly and lively debate over many issues related to that. She was not at all accepting of the gospel and didn't buy into any of my arguments, but it was still a friendly and open conversation and fascinating to get to pose questions and answer questions with a devout atheist, but in a non-hostile forum.
Split is on the Adriatic coast. I've never seen the Adriatic sea before. It's very beautiful here. Rolling low mountains around. It's a gorgeous place.
At Zagreb a UN soldier got on the airplane. He looked like some kind of a ranking officer.
Well, David Lively, who is from the Atlanta church and has been here for a couple of years, found me as I was recording that last sentence. He was talking to someone on the phone, getting my description, while looking across the hall right at me.
Anyway, this United Nations soldier got on the plane and then here in Split there are all kinds of UN troops walking around. Two or three big helicopters painted white with United Nations on the side and several big transports. There are jeeps and things all over the place in UN colors.
There is graffiti in the bathroom from all this year. Soldiers leaving. Apparently this is a transportation hub for the military.
Well, good. David's taught me my first Croatian word: "Hhhhfala - Thank you," necessary in every language. So, I at least know how to say that. (It has some in between soft consonant sounds - you hardly hear the "h", so I have no idea how to spell it even phonetically.)
Money unit is the Kuna. It's about five to the dollar. "Sladoled" is another important word. That's "ice cream." "Dobro," is "good." "Da" for "yes," "ne" for "no."
We just passed a couple of hours in Trogir. We got some pizza in a little cafe and had some desert. We walked through the old city. Real narrow walkways - far too narrow to get a car through. Winding through the labyrinth of old, old, ancient buildings.
10:00PM (recalling the afternoon's events)
We went back over to the airport and picked up Bill Smith and Janice Freytag. They hadn't eaten, so we drove around and found a little cafe. We got some "Croatian hamburgers." Kind of a meatball sandwich with a red pepper sauce. Not bad, but too many onions. Now we're in the van. It's dark and we're driving to Mostar. We're driving through mountains. It's a circuitous route - lots of switchbacks, little villages and towns all along crowding the roadway.
We got past the Croatia/Bosnia border with no trouble. They just looked at our passports and waved us through. David had anticipated that we might possibly have a problem because he borrowed a van to come and get us and he didn't have the proper papers that you normally need. He had gotten across earlier without a problem and the same thing happened going back.
It was pretty eerie crossing the border. And even more than that at the checkpoint outside of Mostar. There were a few soldiers standing around. One UN soldier. Could have been an American or German - couldn't tell. He had a western European face. There were quite a few UN troops on the airplane from Zagreb into Mostar. Most of them Dutch, from what I could gather.
Went to bed at the guest house (a flat owned by the church) about 11:00. About 1:30AM we were awakened by some gunfire in the distance. Couldn't quite tell if it was a rifle going off or what. Then about 2:00, some other weapons started firing a little closer. And I just woke up at about quarter to 10:00 to the sound of a rifle going off very close by. This time on full-automatic. Sounded like an AK emptying a clip.
August 1, 1:15PM
Had a leisurely morning and some breakfast. Bill boiled us some eggs and we had some bread and a few other things lying around. Had a chance to take a bath and get cleaned up. I was sitting talking to Bill when David showed up. He had been trying to get the new muffler Bill had brought from the States put on his Volkswagen "Combi" van. We were at the Agape humanitarian aid office (also the site of the church) here in Mostar. Driving around, every building every place is pock-marked. Mostly it's from shrapnel from exploding shells. In the Agape office there are some bullet holes in the wall. I just got the story. Those are from the father of a girl who accepted Christ. He was so angry that he came over when he was drunk looking for Nikola (who I just met), who had led her to the Lord. Nikola wasn't there, so he sprayed the inside of the office. The girl who was the secretary at the time hit the floor and was not hurt. But there are bullet holes all over the place. I shot some video of this.
It's hot here. I just heard that Mostar is supposed to be the hottest city in eastern Europe. It's quite dry, but pretty warm. Glad I brought a lot of shorts and T-shirt's.
Most of the day was spent getting errands run with David trying to get the muffler put on his VW, which didn't happen. It had the wrong kind of flange on it. We were supposed to see some of Mostar today, but ended up not doing it. I took a nap this afternoon at the flat of the gal who is the secretary of the Agape office. We all had lunch and sat around talking some. Heard a bit more gunfire. We were pretty sure that was outgoing mortar that we heard last night. We definitely heard some AK-47 action this afternoon and earlier this morning. But everyone says, "Oh, it's nothing to worry about. It's probably just drunks with guns." (!!!)
We did pass a UN six-wheel APC today with a soldier on top sitting in his machine gun turret. Never saw anything like that in action before. It rained most of this afternoon. Still a little lightning in the sky. The building where the guest house is has three pretty good-sized flats. The end one is all burned out. You can see where the windows exploded outward. This happened before they took the middle flat as a guest house.
Plans have changed somewhat. We were supposed to go up to Tuzla today, but some folks from England are coming and they wanted to go with us. We were waiting for them to show up, but we just got word that they had mechanical trouble with the Land Rover they were driving down from England and they won't be with us. We're going without them. They were just wanting to go for one day, so we were going to be taking two vehicles anyway. Nikola is the key person who needed to take us over there. David Lively has been over there on this road a couple of times, but he didn't feel competent to lead us because you can easily make some wrong turns and end up right at the Serb front lines which may or may not be active when you get there. Nikola knows the way very well and everyone agreed that it was imperative that he guide the trip over.
As I was eating dinner tonight it struck me that I met Nikola over there at the Agape office. I shook his hand and said "hello" in the very room that had bullet holes all over the wall that were met for him. Fascinating situation. But, again, as seems to always be the case in these type of situations, at the time it seemed very normal and I really didn't think anything of it. But thinking back on it I realize that it was a remarkable thing to experience.
Out here in the "mission field," these folks from the church that are over here working seem to be doing remarkably well at picking up the language. I am totally overcome by the complexity of this language after having struggled to pick up twenty or twenty-five words of Russian on my trips there. I'm here in another place with a language equally as difficult to learn (seems to me anyway) and it's totally different, although a few words here and there seem to have some common roots.
The situation over here with this war and the tensions is extremely complex and takes a lot of thinking to understand. Basically there are three groups here: the Croations, the Bosnians, and the Serbs. At one point, a thousand years or so ago they were all part of one Slavic people, but different tribes. Apparently, the differences of outsiders and different conquering forces with different religions have divided these tribes into hated enemies. I'll read a little quote from the Worldwide Challenge magazine article "The Road to Sarajevo" to explain some of this later.
At this point in time basically the Croats are Catholic in orientation, the Serbs are Orthodox, and the Bosnians are Muslim. Here in Mostar the city is somewhat divided basically by the river. The left side, or east side, is the Bosnian or Muslim side. The west side is the Croat side. The missionaries here currently all live on the Croat side. There were two major battles here at Mostar (In this particular war - the latest of many through the centuries.) When the Serbs came across and basically took over the city. Later on the Croat army came through and pushed them back, causing a great deal of destruction. That's when the 427 year old Stari Most bridge was destroyed. This bridge was the most famous landmark in Mostar. So the Croats, when they were re-taking the city, destroyed this bridge and much of the downtown area and they are not at all pleased with the prospect of the world knowing about this. So they are very sensitive about people taking pictures of war damage on this side, although that seems to be easing somewhat. However on the other side everyone is eager for the world to know what happened to them. They want you to take pictures. (generally) Another interesting here is that officially, when this was under Communist domination, the Cyrillic alphabet was used for writing. Now they have gone to their traditional use of the Latin alphabet. Many of the signs were localized with the Latin alphabet anyway, but you see very little Cyrillic here now. It's a very tense situation with these different peoples living in such close proximity. Apparently, historically the area of Yugoslavia and the cities were not strictly divided by peoples. They intermingled quite a bit. When Yugoslavia broke up there was a big push to separate more into national areas and now we have all these separate countries. However, the people groups that went with these new countries were not necessarily living in these countries, so that's where we've seen the so-called "ethnic cleansing" - people being pushed out of one area and into another. That's where the strife is coming from. That and the leaders grabbing for more territory.
At this point the geo-political boundaries and the cultural boundaries are not exactly lining up with each other. There is lots of strife resulting and apparently many of the conflicts between these three groups of people go back hundreds of years to various wars and conflicts. So there is tremendous mistrust and hatred. There is even disagreement about what is truly Bosnia and what is Croatia. I was told by David that if I speak in the church, don't say "It's good to be here in Bosnia" because some folks don't consider this to be Bosnia. They consider this Croatia. Some of these things are still up in the air because of the war. You are supposed to just say, "I'm glad to be here."
Along that line, it's interesting to note that if you're in Zagreb and you call Mostar, you have to pay long distance to Bosnia from Croatia. But, because they want to be considered part of Croatia here, if you call from Mostar to Zagreb, it is considered a domestic rate within Croatia.
In spite of the gunfire here and there and the mortar sounds, it's basically quiet here and seems quite safe. I've not been frightened at all yet. Not to say that won't happen.
The trip to Tuzla tomorrow should be interesting. We'll be the closest to any of the front lines at that point. I'm told that there are about a dozen military checkpoints that we have to go through. So it should be an interesting experience.
It's a very complex situation. There are strange stories about the Croats and the Bosnians fighting together against the Serbs. Then later on, when the Serbs were driven out, guys who had been fighting next to each other ended up fighting against each other when tension mounted between the Croats and the Bosnians.
In the church here in Mostar there are both Bosnian, Croation, and "Muslim" Christians. So, it's a beautiful example of Christian love conquering the social and cultural differences. Nevertheless, it can be tricky.
Mostar is a beautiful city nestled between mountains and rolling terrain. The buildings are somewhat reminiscent of Russian architecture. Not especially attractive or well-built. But on the whole, a bit nicer than Soviet style cities, I think. It's a bit on the small side as cities go.
I don't think I mentioned much about Split. The airport is actually closer to Trogir. I mentioned the beautiful, old part of the city there with the narrow streets and walkways. The airport is really quite nice; much nicer than any airport I've been in in Russia, including those in Moscow. A much cleaner, more modern facility, although it's small. I suppose this is due to all the tourist traffic in the area here. I'm told that the Yugoslavia side of the Adriatic is really much nicer than the Italian side and that the rich Italians come over to this side for vacation. The water is very attractive - very blue and clear. You can see thirty feet down in some places, I'm told. Somehow, due to the mineral composition of the surrounding mountains... (sound of machine gun)
Aug. 2, 12:15AM
I was jolted awake by gunfire cracking the night very nearby. Got up to use the bathroom and there was some more. I heard a truck drive up and I looked out the window. No more than twenty yards from my window about six soldiers jumped out the back of an army truck and pulled out duffel bags and assault rifles. They stood around talking for a while, then the truck left and the soldiers walked up the street one by one. I don't know what they were doing or where they were going. I thought maybe they were going to find the guy who was shooting in the neighborhood here. (They may well have just been going home for a week or two after doing a week or two of duty. I later found out this was a common rotation.)
We were supposed to leave at 7:00 in the morning. There is another couple here who has to get showered and everything before we go so Bill and I were going to get up early. But, I don't know how much rest we're going to get with all this shooting going on tonight. I was sleeping pretty well until that last burst. Bill slept through a couple of bursts earlier.
We got off about 7:00 this morning on our trip to Tuzla. We are in Nikola's van. He's driving. A couple - the fellow used to be part of the JESUS Film team and is on his way to be the pastor in Tuzla - are with us. Then there is David, Bill, Janice, and a gal named Susan. The folks from England didn't make it, so we're planning to stay just for one day. We just stopped in Jablanica (Ya-bla-neet-za) for coffee. Had some Turkish coffee served in little cone shaped individual servers - Bosnian style.
We just stopped at one of innumerable checkpoints that the military has and the police and the local militias. Checking papers, checking passports constantly. Virtually all of the houses in this valley we are traveling through have been burned out, bombed out, shot up. Because when the Serbs came through they burned up all the Croatian houses and the Croatians in turn burned up the Serb houses. So, at one time or another, just about every house was targeted.
Nikola is a delightful guy. Always a smile, a wink, and a twinkle in the eye. A delightful person. Speaks almost no English.
This valley we're traveling up is absolutely gorgeous. Lot's of tunnels. Beautiful river. The peaks around are beautiful. The little restaurant we stopped at for coffee had a lamb on a spit starting to roast for the day. Probably cooks all day long. Seems to be the popular thing. There have been a number of restaurants along here that have that. We're traveling along a pretty nice paved road, although all the bridges along the way have been bombed out. Every once in a while you have to go around down a gravel road back into a canyon to bypass a destroyed bridge. When we get closer to Sarajevo we will be going up onto a little gravel mountain so as not to enter the Serb held territory.
I"ve had to hide the camera at the police and domestic army checkpoints. At the UN checkpoints we don't even have to stop and I've been able to shoot going through those. There are just oodles of UN vehicles. At Jablinica there was a little compound and it looked like in a little sports field there were probably thirty or so six-wheel APC vehicles. Also a Russian helicopter. It looked like a medical evac unit with a red cross on the side of it. A smaller one than the ones I saw at Split.
I found out this morning that it was not a shell that hit the guest house. A Serbian family owned the place and someone threw a grenade into the end apartment. So the family has left and gone somewhere else, but there is a daughter that still lives nearby and rents out the building.
We just passed through Konjic. (Ko-neetz) It's the home of the Malaysian compound of the UN. Quite an encampment. There are some Mennonites working here doing humanitarian aid. They managed to lead a couple of people to Christ, but now they don't know what to do with them. So, Nikola is going to be coming up here and discipling them.
This area is so beautiful and seems so peaceful it's hard to believe there's a war going on. We had to start early in the morning to make this trip because at night these towns have curfews and you can't go through them. We just passed the first mosque that has not been destroyed. All the ones west of here have been blown up. A while back we passed some soldiers on the road who are Muj Hadien, foreign Muslim soldiers who have come in to help. There were just standing around the edge of the road without weapons. David thought that was probably a compound of theirs.
I just heard some fabulous stories about Nikola. About how he came from Zagreb to Mostar and about his experience of honeymooning up in the mountains right when the Croat/Bosnian war heated up. He was surrounded by 600 Bosnian Muslims at one time. He and the Croat family he and his wife were staying with ended up escaping because of a UN convoy that came through. These stories are documented in a book called Miracle in Mostar put out by Youth for Christ in England.
I was expecting this trip to be mostly through wilderness, but it's been one little village after another along these mountain roads. There are some stretches in between, but more often than not there are houses and buildings along the way, though most of them have been heavily damaged, if not totally destroyed by the fighting. Still there seem to be people eeking out a living somehow in many of them. It seems most have been abandoned.
I didn't sleep too well last night. Kept waking up every time the guns would shoot. Never really got scared, but I did get a couple of adrenaline pumps going a few times, which made it hard to go back to sleep. Our Croation friends who were also staying in the guest house never woke up. Never even knew what happened - slept right through it.
At the moment we're about three kilometers from the front. We just passed a medevac helicopter that's parked alongside the road.
We're now at Tircin and turning off the main road onto the mountain road to avoid Sarajevo. This is about 25 miles from Sarajevo right now. This is basically a cross-country route to intersect with another road which will be leading away from Sarajevo. At that point we'll be about 35 miles from the city on the north side.
We've just come into Kresevo (Kra-sha-vo). We've stopped for lunch. It's just before Kiseljak. (Kee-sel-yak) We went through Konjic (Ko-neetz), and Ejelasnica (Yel-yash-nit-sa). The 84 winter Olympics were in the mountains near there. The Maer brothers from Colorado were in the medals that time. Igman is the peak (1502 meters), not that high, but you are very close to the sea, so it's still a big mountain.
The Neretva river is the one that goes through Mostar and the one we've been driving along quite a bit on this trip. This place where we've stopped for lunch is a little open-sided pavillion built over a brook. It's a beautiful spot. Built of rough timbers. Looks pretty new, like it's just been built. The nail heads are all shiny. There are these old concrete cisterns on the grounds and it's like a small trout farm. So I think we're going to have a lunch of fresh trout.
Nikola is shrewd. He wears a black shirt and has a little clerical collar he puts on going through the Croat areas where they are nominally Catholic. They take one look at that collar at the checkpoints and wave him on through. Saves a lot of time. Then going through the Bosnian areas he takes it off. (I found out later that he was joking with a minister who was wearing that shirt and said that he hadn't gotten one like that at his ordination. The fellow promptly took the shirt and collar off and gave it to him!)
My little Volkswagen would feel right at home in this part of the world. VW's seem to be the favored car around here. There are scads of them. Even saw one convertible today, although they are rare.
At one of the checkpoints a while back two policemen (or may have been soldiers) invited themselves to have a lift in our van. They are sitting in the back with their pistols. We just now stopped at another checkpoint. The soldier checking the papers was a dead-ringer for Sean Penn, the actor.
We're at Vares. It's a mining town. There are about 100 UN APC's and trailers and trucks here. It's an ugly town dominated by some kind of processing plant. Several of them. A lot of derelict equipment lying around.
We're at Pogar. A tiny little village. We're going the short route. Back at Vares we made the choice to go the short way instead of going out of our way about fifty kilometers to avoid where some fighting was going on aparantly along this road we're on right now. There has been fighting and you had to circumvent it, but with these two soldiers we have with us, it could be the reason we're going this way. We're the only vehicle on the road now. All the big trucks we were traveling with went the long way.
Good morning is "dobre utra," just like in Russian. I found out that "s" is always pronounced "st," "c" is a "c" sound unless it has the little cup over it. Then it is a "ch" sound. "J" is always a "y" sound. Another useful bit of Croation is "vetse" - "WC." (vate-say)
Nanod and Zoritsa are the couple traveling with us to be the Tuzla pastor and wife.
Aug 2, 10:00PM
We pulled into Tuzla about 5:30. They had a choir practice going on at the church. Well, everybody was there and they were just singing. We met the evangelist who has been helping get this church get started. His name is Klaus Domke. He's a German from near Stutgart and is married to a Croat girl. He's about 28 and his wife is a good bit younger. He was very happy to see Nanod and Zoritsa. We waited around quite a long time for the singing to finish. Bill and I fell asleep in the van. Both of us had been dozing quite a bit of the way into Tuzla after lunchtime. I'm really, really tired. Then we had a long meeting with all of us who came and Klaus and his wife trying to decide how the $47,000.00 that were brought in should be distributed. There were some good ideas that came up. That meeting went to about 7:30.
There is a 9:00PM curfew here. You have to be off the streets by 9:00 or there is a 50 dinar fine and you spend the night in jail. So, we're all staying at different people's houses and I ended up with Nikola at the home of an elderly couple that go to the church. His name is Angelco Savic and she is Angelina. More about them later. Their two daughters also go to the church and their grandchildren. One of the daughters, Vesnakalok (Best I can spell it - who I found out later was the first convert in Tuzla) gave Bill and I her testimony in a very excited fashion. Told us about some amazing things God had done for her. Her husband is not yet a believer. The police came and took him off in the middle of the night, but the next day they brought him back. She thought he was gone to the front for sure.
Well the 10:00 o'clock call to prayer from the mosque just cranked up. The guy is wailing away over there. (sounds of the call to prayer in background) Anyway, we're here at the flat of this elderly couple. They and Nikola are talking away. She brought out some food and I was eating. I can't understand a word of what they are saying. Nikola knows just a very little bit of English. The couple knows none. I was sitting there, starting to doze off. They said "do you want to go to bed?" (well, "communicated" is more accurate) So, here I am going to bed.
They say life here is about ten times harder than over in the west side of Mostar. I believe it. The water only works for one hour a day, so they have to store water in the bathtub.
Well, that was an interesting experience. There is all the equipment here to take a bath, but not enough water. The bathtub is the cistern, so it's sponge-bath time. Nevertheless, I'm reasonably clean.
Angelco is in his seventies. He was a lawyer. Thought he seemed very educated. He has a lot of books in his flat. Klaus says it's funny; many times he'll tell a story and he will present it like a lawyer making an argument. They have a son and a daughter. I'm not sure if it was Angelco or his son, but there were a lot of models of airplanes and helicopters in the cabinets there. Lot's of Russian aircraft.
"Ciao" means goodbye, like in Italian.
Aug. 3, 11:15
We're at the refugee camp at Tuzla. It's at the airport which has big UN bunkers at the entrance gate declaring this to be their air-base. (Though no airplanes are anywhere to be seen in the air or on the ground except for the rusty wreck of an old Mig.) (Later to be seen on CNN behind the correspondants as the US troops made this airfield their base for their peace-keeping mission.)
I'm in the back of a UN truck full of refugees driving across the runway of the airport to the camp. It's about five kilometers from the gate. We had to leave Klaus' VW camper at the gate and ride in with a guy with "Punjab" on his shoulders. This truck's being driven by a couple of UN soldiers from Pakistan. This is remaniscent of the EAA convention at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. There's a runway here flanked by thousands of tents.
This camp is run by the UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It's sunny today. The weather is quite pleasant; probably around seventy degrees. Very nice. A little breeze blowing. Tuzla must be at a higher elevation; it's much cooler here than Mostar. We barely got the camera in past the gate. The gate guards were saying "no cameras alowed," but one senior guy said we could take it in as long as we got permission from refugees to take their picture. As we walked toward the truck, I heard the other more junior soldiers all taking exception and telling the senior man that they really shouldn't have let us in with the camera. (I think the Lord put that guy in charge on that particular watch just for us.)
Now there is a negotiation going on with the police in their tent for permission to use the camera. From the airport here we can see the hills which are held by the Serbs. They can see the camp from their positions, so Klaus says it's a merciful thing that they have not shelled the camp. The airport is closed to air traffic because of the threat of planes being shot down, so it's serving as the camp. They said there were about 6,500 people here ten days ago and they don't know how many are here now. They are estimating that there are still about 6,200 here.
There is no hot kitchen here. The only thing they have to eat are military MRE meals, which are dry. The adults are doing okay on them, but the kids have a hard time with it. One woman we interviewed said her child was in the hospital with a stomach problem caused by the shock of the strange food. They try to cook over fires using the cardboard boxes the MRE's come in for fuel. The airfield is surrounded by woods, but they can't go out there to gather fire wood because there are mines laid all around just beyond the wire fence. The Bosnian army feared the Serbs, so they laid the mines. They can't even go into the woods to use the bathrooms. They have makeshift pit latrines arranged with curtains around them.
This camp is the receiving area for refugees. There are eight or nine more camps around Tuzla that are somewhat less temporary. Now we are going to go visit one of those.
"My name" is "yasim." Yasim Dan. Srebrinica was one of the camps that was overrun by the Serbs. Jepa is the other. Most of the people at the airfield came from those two places. Srenbrenk is where we are going now, not to be confused with Srebrenica.
We just pulled into Srenbrenk, about 36 kilometers outside of Tuzla. We visited leaders of the Red Crescent in their office. Some of these guys are riding around with us today. The Red Crescent is the Muslim humanitarian organization and they run the hot food kitchens around Tuzla. They have 8 or 10 or 12 regional divisions of their organization. They also are officially the Red Cross in this country. (Their business cards have the red cross on them as well as the red crescent symbol.) The big question is how closely to cooperate with these guys? You must understand that when someone here says they are Muslim, that is a national identity and probably has 10 percent to do with religion and 90 percent to do with national identity and indeed these are very nominal Muslims, much as an Italian might consider himself to be a Catholic, but might never go to church. These guys probably don't care if anybody goes to the mosque or not, but they consider themselves to be Muslims. Certainly not radical Muslims. It's an odd thing here that the Bosnians are Muslim, but are very moderate and are the underdogs, having no heavy weapons. The radical, aggressive ones are the Serbs who are Orthodox. Kind of backwards to our thinkin in terms of Islam in the middle east.
I'm slowly beginning to understand some of the complexities of the situation here. The leadership of Serbia and the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs are estranged right now because the fellow who's the leader of Serbia has gotten tired of this war; tired of it draining his coffers, and so is wanting things to end whereas the leader of the Bosnian Serb group is wanting to fight on. So, they're mad at each other and you have Serbs mad at Serbs.
We just visited a chicken farm with the capacity to produce 22,000 tons of meat per year. They are running at about 5 percent capacity now for lack of capital. Nevertheless, I've never seen so many chickens in my life. Before the war, this plant exported to Croatia, Serbia, and all over the place.
The Bosnian countryside looks so picturesque; like a picture from a storybook. Beautiful. You have to be careful about things like your license plates. Nikola's Ford high-top van that we rode in has Croat plates, which are okay on the big roads and in the cities, but if you go into the villages they'll vandalize your vehicle. David got Bosnian army slogans written on his van one time. So, we're driving around in Klaus' VW camper because it has Bosnian plates.
About 600,000 Bosnians are living in various places in Europe. About 300,000 in Germany. A lot of them send money back to families living here.
I had no idea that this country was so beautiful. It's just breathtaking with the low mountains and rolling hills and dense villages nestled up on the hillsides. It's just gorgeous.
Visited one hot kitchen. They had already served everybody and noone was there. Now we're at another one. There doesn't seem to be any refugees here, but they are going to feed us. "Gratanica" Three days ago this building with blue-green curtains was shelled. Just shot a picture of it on the first tape at about 1:13:00. They have a canon on a mountain about ten kilometers from here and we're about 1.5 kilometers away from the front line right now.
I'm standing in this town looking at the mountain where there is a canon that three days ago shelled the municipal building and the theatre.
(sound of a siren going off) "This will be exciting for the folks at home."
(sounds of one of the guys whistling like a falling shell and a few chuckles)
David says that the sirens mean that a shell landed somewhere in the metropolitan area. Probably out in a village because we didn't hear an explosion. But, nobody pays much attention to the sirens because they know it's dangerous all the time anyway.
There are about 20,000 people in this town. Before the war about 20 percent were Serbs and about 3/4 of the Serbs here fled to the mountains to join the fighting forces up there. The rest are mostly older people who refuse to leave the city.
Bill's burning up here (in the van with the Red Crescent guys again) because the guys don't want the windows open. There is some wive's tale about wind blowing through a vehicle will make you sick. The fellows we are riding with don't want to get sick.
"Oldlitchno," that's excellent. Is that just for food or does that work for anything" (me) "No, that works for other stuff too. (David)"
Aug. 3, 7:30PM
Back at the flat of my host and hostess from last night. We're in the middle of a baptism service. They are baptising eight new believers. There were thirteen baptized before. This makes twenty one baptized believers in this church. This church is an off-shoot of the church in Mostar. It's interesting that in the '94 issue of the Operation World guide it says there is no evangelical church in Bosnia. It's good to know that God works faster than publishers and printers.
Medin just got baptized. He's kind of tall, about 6,2, and they had a hard time getting him undner the water (in the short tub), but managed to do it. And he's baptized, praise God! Nikola's baptizing away in there in the bathroom. Slava Boga; Glory to God.
Everyone's rushing out to beat the curfew home. The baptism was held at the place, as I mentioned, where I slept, so I'm going to stay right here. Angelco and Angelina's flat here was the beginning of the church here in Tuzla. Vesnakala was the first believer. She spoke into the tape recorder for a while:
"My sister is Muslim. My son Gelco also. We are very, very mixed family. (laughs) The grandchildren all, all believe in Jesus. All rooms in our heart is Jesus. We have hundred rooms in our hearts and in all room is Jesus, believe me!"
Angelco was the local communist party leader and he was active in the communist party for fifty years.
(Venakala again: )
Fifty years, yes. But Jesus cracked and vented communist heart and few days before Angelco will start to believe in Jesus have operation and he changed his heart! And he have operation and have pace-maker in his heart and then Jesus came in communist heart and now Angelco is really, really a man of God.
He has baptism certificat no. 001 of the Tuzla church. He was the first one baptized in his own bathtub, right in here.
Angelina was talking to her daughter and she was wondering who I was talking to with this little box in hand. She thought it was some kind of a telephone.
Aug. 3, 9:50PM
Nikola just got a call from his wife in Mostar and the Serbs are shelling Mostar. So, we may not go back tomorrow. Just a few minutes ago I heard a few explosions here, far away. Nikola and our hosts have been listening to the radio for about an hour. And it seems the talks between the Croats and the Serbs in Geneva have broken down. There are 100,000 Croat troops that we knew were around there on the march, aparantly, and so are a lot of Serbs. The talk is that there may now be total war between the Croat army and the Bosnian Serb army. Both are well armed, unlike the Bosnian Muslims. (This action turned out to be the re-taking of the Krajina region by the Croation army - a major victory. This precipitated in tens of thousands of additional refugees - this time Serbs) So, it's very much a question if we are to go back to Mostar tomorrow.
Aug. 4, 10:30AM
I had a sponge bath and a nice breakfast. We just went to the office of the Red Cresent again. Again we're off to try to get footage of a kitchen with some actual people being fed. Bill has the language tip for the day:
When you're saying "good-bye" to people, just remember to say "Go Virginia!"
Put a "D" in the front - "Do Vragenia"
Osman, who is the head of the Red Crescent in Tuzla, it was his wife who was one of those baptized last night. Janice stayed with her. Her name is Vukica (Vu-keet-za)
Well it's 1:30 and there is a truck that's gone of the road and blocked the road. We see trucks backed up way on the other side. Everybody's got their engines shut off. We may be here a while. This is close to the place where there is a little bypass around a village where the route goes to within 300 meters of the so-called front line, which does not necessarily indicate fighting, it's just line of the beginning of Serb-held territory.
About five minutes ago we were waiting for the truck to be pulled out. A shell came down and hit a house right next to the truck. Probably 75 yards away from where we were sitting. We jumped out of the van and went running up the road. Now Nikola has pulled the van back about a hundred yards and parked next to a dirt bank. The truck that was in front of us also backed up and is now shielding the front of our van.
With those shells the whistle gives you just enough time to know what's going to happen but not enough time to do anything about it.
Just as we started to get underway another round came in. I'm not sure where that one hit. It seems it was up in the woods above the road, so they were aparantly bracketing. Then the guys further out on this side shot one back. Nikola made the decision we're going to go so we're goin'. We're somewhat exposed on this road in this big white van with a high top. We're in a very dangerous spot right now, but being on the move we're a hard target to hit. Also, Nikola believes they will not waste a shell on a single vehicle. The reason they were shooting was that they saw all the trucks backed up because of the blockage in the road.
I got a shot of the house with the hole in the roof from the first round.
Okay, Nikola says we're out of range now behind the mountain. They can't hit us now.
Nikola told us to really hurry because right after a shell lands is the best time to move because they have to reload and adjust their aim so you have a couple of minutes to get going.
If that round had landed long another ten yards it could have hit one of those trucks and possibly caused an explosion or started a fire and blocked the road so we could not have gotten past.
Nikola says that it's easier to judge the size of a "grenade," or shell, when it hits a hard surface. Since this hit the roof of a house it's harder to judge, but he thinks it was probably 120 millimeter. Could have been 80 millimeter, but probably 120.
There is no respect for the UN on the part of the Serbs. There were three or four UN APC's trying pull that truck out of the mire and four or five big trucks waiting there and that's what they were shooting at.
I always if I ever had a combat situation if I would grab the camera and start shooting or just run, but I did grab my camera and start shooting so I guess I'm a certified combat photographer now. I had to ask Nikola several times if I could get a picture of the hill where the shell came from. He reluctantly finally said I could climb up to the top of the dirt mound we were hiding behind and shoot the hill across the valley. That was just before the second round hit.
The guys who are from the Red Crescent who are Bosnians - you could sense the anger in their voices as they talked about the UN They say it's supposed to be a peace-keeping force, but they're not doing anything. Then out at the airport where they are supposed to be taking care of these people they're really not doing very much for them. But they won't let much aid get through because they don't want it to become a permanent encampment. (It didn't. I'm remembering as I transcribe this tape two years later that within a few months all those people were gone from the airfield. It became the base of operations for the U.S. forces that went into the country. That airfield and the names Tuzla and Mostar became well know in the U.S. as CNN reported from same. I had never heard of the places before going there.)
The Red Crescent guys were speaking bitterly about how the UN soldiers got six or seven thousand dollars a month, which sounds a bit inflated to me, but nevertheless they were bitter that these soldiers were well paid to do nothing but drive around in their vehicles, but would do nothing to stop the fighting. They are also very suspicious that some of the UN leadership are Orthodox and they think they are in cahouts with the Russians in supplying weapons to the Serbs who are Orthodox.
Last night I was just a little nervous about all the breaking events, but I got to thinking while I was there with Angelco and Angelina, the first baptized converts in Tuzla, and in the same room with me was sleeping Nikola, who is jokingly called "The Bishop of Bosnia," but indeed he is a spiritual giant. And I thought of the angels that must be hovering around this little flat and decided we must be bullet proof unless God would ordain otherwise.
Stoped in Breza, 4:30PM, still Friday August 4
Well this town is pretty much all closed up with sand bags across windows, blocks lined up, logs vertically lined up covering things, plywood. There are marks you can see - I'm looking right now at a building that's been hit a couple of places. We're pretty close to Sarajevo here and the answer to "when was the last time it was shelled?" was "frequently." You can see marks on the pavement where shells have hit. Anyway, when we pulled up, two policemen with AK-47's met us and turned out to be pretty friendly guys. They escorted us to a place where there was one cafe open. About the size of my living room. We got some liquid refreshments. This place is about thirty kilometers from Sarajevo.
We just passed through Visoko. Nikola was driving really fast along the road just outside the town because Serb territory comes within 150 meters of the road. They are supposedly right there up in the hills overlooking, but we're past the dangerous part he says.
It was a little dicey there back at the last checkpoint after coming out of the village where we stopped at the cafe. They stopped us and wanted to see the camera and everything. The police in the village told us we could take some pictures, which I did, and then someone saw me shooting, a different policeman apparantly, and called ahead to the checkpoint. They stopped us and we weren't sure what was going to happen. They made us wait for quite a while. Finally one of the guys looked at the camera. I rewound the tape and showed him in the viewfinder what we'd shot in the village. They finally decided it was okay and let us go. Since we narrowly made it through that one I pulled the tape out of the camera, and the two recorded tapes, and stowed them away in my bag in a little pocket hidden inside and put a fresh tape in the camera so we won't be as likely to loose the good stuff we have so far if this happens again.
(As I type: It seems the fear was that we were using the video camera to spy on the town and provide intelligence for Serb gunners to improve their aiming. This was a common fear and one of the reasons Nikola kept at me to keep the camera hidden when we were around anyone.)
It's interesting to note that something Mostar and Tuzla have in common is the mixed population of different nationalities - or ethnic groups. They have decided here that those are the areas they are targeting because there is better response. In the areas that are totally one nationality or the other it is much more difficult to make any headway. So, they are targeting the most fruitful areas to try to build up a church and then the strategy is that the believers of whatever particular ethnic group would then be able to more easily get into the other areas and bear some fruit there.
Nikola said the estimate is about 200,000 have died on both sides in Bosnia.
Well everybody agrees it was about 60 yards from where we were to where that shell landed on the house. Nikola thinks the second one was very close to it. Probably hit the dirt, so we didn't see a plume of smoke, but it might have even been behind us. We saw the family that lived in the house that was hit. They were all outside watching the bruhaha about the stuck truck so they weren't in the house. That was fortunate because they probably would have been killed. I told Nikola after the shell incident that he was very good at thinking under pressure because he knew exactly what to do. He said that if he didn't he would be dead by now! He says it's just instinct now. He doesn't really think - it's just instict what to do. He's been three years in a war zone and has been in Mostar many days when several hundred shells rained down in one day. As many as one thousand in one day.
August 4, 6:00PM.
We're back at the trout restaraunt. It's an outdoor pavillion that straddles a stream. It's beautiful early evening - cool, breezy, people relaxing around. Hard to believe we were as close to being blown up today as we were. All in a day's work for missionaries in Bosnia.
Another Croation word: Tomato is "Paradise"
The Tuzla church is eight months old.
The word Yugoslavia means "South Slavs." The idea being to unite all the southern slavic peoples, which turned out to be not a very good idea. At least not a very successful idea.
Nikola used to be a professional driver. In fact he was hired by somebody in Zagreb who was trying to get humanitarian work started in Mostar. After about four days of being a driver he made a trip to Mostar and believed God wanted him to be there working. He decided he had to quit the truck driving job to go evangelize in Mostar. He was feeling badly about having to quit. He didn't know that the guy who had hired him was praying for a Croat who would go to Mostar. Anyway, Nikola has driven over 40,000 miles this year in this Ford of Europe van that we're in right now and about another 10,000 miles in the church's Toyota truck and some other vehicles.
We're off the mountain road and rejoining the paved road leaving Sarajevo toward Mostar. (The deal was that you couldn't drive through Sarajevo, so as you approached, maybe ten miles out, you left the highway and took these winding mountain roads that would go through little villages and wound your way around Sarajevo. Then you rejoined the highway on the other side of Sarajevo. This process turned what would have normally been about a two hour drive into a four to seven hour drive, depending on the roads you had to take on a given day. This changed depending on where fighting was going on. )
We can see Igman mountain from here.
We heard this morning that about ten shells fell on Mostar yesterday. These are what they call "grenade" (pronounced with a short "a" sound). They are lighter canon, not like heavy artillery. Heavy artillery they call those "a guns that shoots mines." (I think that the lighter guns were actually anti-aircraft style guns that they just cranked down.) The purpose of the canon fire seems meant to kill people with shrapnel.
The road between Mostar and Sarajevo has quite a few tunnels and one of them the Serbs tried to collapse by blowing up explosives in it. They weren't able to do that, but you can see big holes in the ceiling.
Konjic (pronounced "Kon-yeetz", kinda)
9:30PM, Back in Mostar
At the checkpoint here the guards just said that two minutes ago a shell fell right nearby here.
It's amazing how people go about their business in a war zone. In Mostar, driving through here tonight back to the guest house and dropping everybody else off we passed many people just out on the streets sitting around, smoking, talking. As we went by one of the more dangerous areas there is a fairly nice hotel that got hit by a light artillery shell at some point today. And just down the block there was a little girl, about maybe seven years old, out emptying the trash by herself across the street.
I just heard two people were killed today on the east side, one on the west side. Lots of shells fell.
4:10PM, next afternoon
We just had about half a dozen, what (Sound of a 4-shot machine gun burst followed by a 3-shot burst.) four or five shells just fell and they've been sending some back. People are shootin' guns. It's been pretty quiet all day up 'till now though. There were a couple early this morning.
Well, I just found out I'm a sneematel. Spell that: snimatelj (cinematographer).
August 6, 1:00AM
Today, meaning the 5th, we got of to kind of a slow start. We slept in kinda late, got up and had a shower, or a bath-shower. Felt good. I hadn't had my hair clean in about three days for lack of water in Tuzla. Bill, David and I spent a long time talking and planning and finally we decided to go shoot some things on the east side, mainly the big building that is to be the church and school. Then Dave hadn't eaten, he'd gotten up early and had to take some people down to Split, so we ended up going over to his place. We tried to go to a cafe to get a pizza around the corner from his place, but it turns out it had been closed for a couple of weeks. David hadn't realized that, so then we stopped by a shop and got some hot dogs and a few things.
Dave's landlady gave us some rolls she'd just made so we had a little meal. Also David went to get Janice and she ate with us. Then we went over to Nikola's house where I met Saundra and their baby. They were planning a few things. Then the weather cleared. It had been raining. We decided to go over to the east side, so Nikola took us over in the Land Rover that had just come from England, which is fifteen years old - a short chasis model and actually not a very good vehicle for what they need here. Though it's four wheel drive and very rugged, the ride is just too rough for carrying passengers over the mountains.
Anyway, we went over to the east side through the checkpoints and all. Made shots of David explaining the building and the plans for renovation. I think that turned out pretty well. While we were over there shells started falling around the city and everybody kept saying what I was doing was pretty dangerous, but it needed to be done so we kept shooting. We did this great scene with David up in the back of the building and you can see how high the building is as it overlooks the city. It actually is higher than any of the minerets of any of the mosques. He talked about "claiming the high ground."
This building is about three or four minutes' walk up the hill from the old bridge. When it's fixed up again it's going to be a fabulous place. Lot's of room and a beautiful view of the city.
Well, with the shells blowing up around the city they were talking about shrapnel and I did one last shot of a photograph that Nikola went to get from the architect of the building before it had been damaged by the war. So I was shooting that onto video and Nikola found a piece of shrapnel and gave it to me. I think he was trying to impress on me how dangerous this stuff really was as it explodes from a shell red hot and can just go right through you and kill you very easily.
At one point earlier today we stopped by the church, the west side church which actually is the Agape headquarters and warehouse where the church is meeting now and we picked up a guitar there. Before we ate over at David's we figured out some songs that I knew that the church knew in Croation and I'm going to play for the service in the morning. Bill's going to be preaching. It was quite wild driving around town today in this old Land Rover. (sounds of me eating) Sitting in the back with no windows in the sides going through a landscape that looks like World War II Europe all ravaged by bombs, careening fast through the dangerous places. I felt like I was once again in a movie. (A feeling I'd had before from time to time in my travels)
We told the housekeeper/cook here at the guest house that we'd be back here by 8:00 o'clock to eat so we hurried back to eat dinner. Shortly after dinner we heard a shell whistling through the air and it landed pretty close. Having had the one blow up on the road we feel like now we can kinda judge how far away they are and this one sounded like it couldn't have been more than a block or two away. I could actually hear the shrapnel hitting things.
There's been a lot of shooting of machine guns today all around the city and we couldn't figure out why until we saw CNN at David's neighbor's place. He has a neighbor who is with Pioneers mission who has a sattelite dish. Anyway, we got the news about the Croation army taking Knin, which the Bosnian Serbs had declared their capital. In about two days of fighting they took about seven hundred square kilometers of land including the city. Now all the Serb leaders are angry with each other and the Croation-Bosnian alliance seems to be strengthening. So, maybe there is some hope for an end in sight. (Indeed, the war ended about a month later but has since rekindled several times.)
So, tonight I ended up practicing the songs I'm going to play tomorrow for the church and playing a bunch of other things until about 1:00 o'clock in the morning - right now! I decided I better get some of this stuff down on tape. It's incredible how fast you get used to a war zone. I was amazed the other day at people walking around on the streets while there were machine guns firing and now I find myself remarkably at ease in a city where there are artillery rounds falling. It was a very different matter when there were up two two thousand rounds a day falling on the city. I think I would be a lot more scared then, but today maybe a dozen have fallen all day long, if that many, and there really isn't a thing you can do about them. Your risk of actually being hit is relatively low, so you just stop worrying about it after a while. I really don't think it's a false sense of security. It's just more a sense of calculated risk and acceptance of that level of risk. That coupled with the fact that I truly believe that it's God's calling to be here this particular week and I believe I have His protection for this particular mission and that I have much to do yet on this earth that God will save me for.
It's hard to describe the devastation of the center of this city. There are places all over town where you can see damage from explosions and even some houses that are completely demolished. There's one right across the street from this guest house that I believe was occupied by a Serb family that is totally rubble. Down in the center of the city the buildings are hulks filled with rubble. Most of them look like there could not be one room inside that is inhabitable. It's block after block of total devastation.
August 6, Sunday, 10:45AM
We just finished the service at the Mostar church and I had a very unusual opportunity to lead the singing - play the guitar and sing along, which is especially interesting since I didn't know the language. They had overheads and David helped pick songs that we all knew, however, several of them they are used to singing in a much slower temp than I'm used to, so we had to synchronize a little bit, but all-in-all it was a great time. I found it difficult to sing along because as I thought about what was happening here and what I was privledged to be involved with I was really overcome by emotion. We sang "We Exalt Thee" as the last song and did the last chorus acapella. I was croaking out a joyful noise because emotion was making it very difficult to sing. It was a very blessed experience.
Afterward several people came up to have Nikola and Bill and David pray for them. One lady was very near where a shell landed yesterday. She said shrapnel went all around, but none hit her. She knows that God protected here, but another woman standing very near her was killed. She came to pray that God would help erase the ugly picture in her mind of what she saw yesterday. She was very troubled about it. Several others came forward to ask for prayer and that goes on right now. I slipped out to get some of these thoughts down.
I was sitting there thinking about the shells that came near us and thinking about this woman who was killed yesterday and remembered my feelings as I got ready to get on the airplane and say goodbye to my family. At one point I was a little concerned that Esther didn't really grasp the gravity of the situation that I was coming to because she seemed so accepting of me coming over here. So I held both of her shoulders and looked at her and said "Now you know this could be dangerous" and she very seriously said "Yes, I know." We both seemed to have a very strong sense that this was a "God thing" as we say and that it was very much the right thing to do to come here. I trust that will prove correct as the video gets put together and gets seen by people.
I had this feeling as I was saying goodbye and as I was flying over here that I may not be coming back. Right now, after being here, I see that yes it is dangerous but yes I will go home again in one piece. But I was thinking about that feeling and I'm thinking perhaps God was testing me there - allowing me to have the sensation that this could cost my life, but would I go anyway?
It's quarter to 12:00 noon.
We walked downtown trying to find pizza, but every place is closed down. It's bread again.
"Jova" That's the little brass personal coffee pitcher thing. (Two of which I brought home.)
Rudniza is the village in the area where the shells fell the other day at the stuck truck in the road incident. (I said the name of this town on the tape as if it would be obvious how to spell it. One develops an ear to the way a language sounds after being immersed in it for only a week or so and the names can seem somewhat familiar. After two years I have no idea if my understanding or spelling of the name of this village is even remotely close.)
(The tape has me recording some fellow saying the words for lizard and snake. I have no idea why. I'm not even going to attempt a spelling for these words.)
August 6, 8:00PM
We just came over to the east side. Shot bunch of the bombed out buildings. Nikola took us around to see a lot of this stuff.
Then we got permission from a police inspector on the east side to openly walk around and shoot, so we were doing that. We stopped and had coffee and mineral water overlooking the river and the old bridge that is now gone. Then we met this old man on the footbridge and he said he had this house that he'd like us to see. So we went over and saw it and it was a most remarkable experiencing a five hundred year old house, older than the old bridge. This man's family built it and has lived in it ever since. It is basically preserved as a museum although they still live in it. And it was just fabulous - all original as the rooms were hundreds of years ago complete with furnishings. Interestingly the house is designed to maintain multiple wives each with their own rooms and facilities. Quite fascinating.
The old man's wife served us some rose drink - kind of like Turkish delight Paul (from England) tells us that he had at home. And later he served us some baklava-like desert and it was quite delightful. Once again I was thinking as I have many times before experiencing things like this in this terribly difficult missionary work and yet we end up experiencing things that no travel agent anywhere could possibly sell you at any price. Wonderful memories. Suffering for Jesus once again!
We were opening the side door of the van and shooting and whenever a policeman or really anyone was nearby we would close the door and hide the camera. We had to be very careful about that over on the west side, the Croation side, they are very touchy about pictures. Actually they don't want you taking pictures. It's illegal because the Croation army actually caused most of this damage and they don't want the world to know that. Whereas on the Muslim side they want the world to know what happened so they're much more amenable to picture-taking. However, with all this fighting going on everyone's very suspicious. So, Nikola's been very hesitant to even ask permission thinking it would be very involved. But finally he did and it's Sunday, it's hot, and no one wants to work, one of the checkpoints is unmanned. The inspector was drinking and thought it was really funny that American's want to take pictures of broken down burned up buildings. But he said, "Oh sure, you can do it for three hours." So we skipped the evening church service to take pictures while we had the opportunity.
The river going through Mostar is the Neretva.
After we had our little coffee stop we went to a little shop by the old bridge which is the first souvenier shop I've seen open. This one was run by a man who is a painter and has many of his paintings for sale - very nice. I bought one of the little individual coffee pitchers (a Jova) that I've been served coffee in a number of times here. I was on the lookout for one. This one is kind of old and discolored. I'm hoping it will clean up. I also bought a little turkish dish with a little hand etched design on it and a book on Mostar. All of this for ten dollars US. Also saw one of the coffee grinders that is characteristc here. I've seen a number of people using them. He wanted forty duetchmarks or thirty dollars for it and I passed but then was sorry I did. So I think if I can get in there again I may buy the thing.
Some more information on this big push by the Croat army. (which turned out to be the retaking of the Krijina region)("Cry-eena") Found out today that in this two days of fighting they basically have taken eighty percent of their goal of the territory they were trying to reclaim. It looked like on the television report that we saw at the five hundred year old house (we were looking at the man's old flickering black and white TV) it looked like they figure that by tomorrw they will complete their goal. The president was at Dvini, or whatever that place was that was taken, the Bosnian Serb capital. It also was revealed that they attacked on thirty two fronts at the same time and apparantly the Serbs were expecting them on three or four of those fronts. So it was a true blitzkreig and the Serbs were basically running away as they came through. There was very little resistance. So all the machine gun fire we've been hearing in the town has been celebrants exulting in their victory. The shelling that's been hitting the city occassionally is no doubt just frustrated Serbs trying to retaliate with little effect.
I believe with the UN airstrikes on some of the ammunition dumps that I read in U.S. News and World Report today had lots of secondary explosions, that the Serbs probably don't have all that many shells left to shoot at least in this area.
Yesterday we shooting here we heard the story of a man named Salko who had been working here for about six weeks cleaning up the mess in the school/church building. (which was filled with rubble) He prayed to receive Christ after Nikola had all that contact with him.
August 6, 8:30PM
Nikola was telling us how he had made so many friends on this side of the river even though he is a Croat and they are basically perona-non-grata over here - hated very much. Yet he came over here during the heaviest fighting when thousands of shells were falling a brought food and help to people and was here trying to help when things were the most dangerous. Now he knows so many people and has so many friends that he's welcome over here and has earned the respect and privlege to be here and be accepted among these folks. Also, the church that is being established here is the only church. There is no Catholic, no Orthodox, there's nothing else here but mosques.
August 7, Monday, noon
As far as we can tell no shells fell yesterday. Things seem pretty quiet today. On TV all the news is of the great victory.
Spent most of this morning at Nikola's discussing the questions that would be asked at his interview. We decided to try to go over to the old center of the city on the other side to videotape that. Nikola gave me a copy of the book, "Miracle in Mostar" which tells a lot of the story about the beginning of the church here and a lot of stories from Nikola and Saundra's life. I asked him to write in it. They put, "To our dear cameraman." We joked that it should say, "To our nightmare" for all the grief I've caused Nikola pushing him to get footage that he was nervous about.
Monday, August 7, 1:40PM
We just went over to the east side down by the old bridge to interview Nikola. We were going to do it at his place. He even suggested in his living room. David and I were trying to figure out a better background to make it more interesting rather than a blank wall with a couch. So, we went down there. Nikola seemed okay with it and we went to a little cafe. He suggested sitting under a grape arbor, but lighting-wise it wouldn't work showing the background. And there were people sitting around listening which we knew he was nervous about people overhearing us. So, we ended up crossing the river to the other side and found a nice spot with the ruins of the old bridge and the new footbridge spanning the gap in the background and all was going well until a teenage boy leaned out a window in the wall and started yelling. Seems like everyone wants to be on TV. I didn't think much of it, but it distressed Nikola quite a bit, because this is the kind of thing that has caused trouble in the past where kids have drawn the attention of the police or whoever. So, Saundra was with uss. Since she speaks English better she communicated more thoroughly to us the danger of the situaion and how distressing it was that Christians in the west need to see these dramatic pictures of devastation and so forth in order to be moved to be involved. Nikols called this carnality. He thinks that true Christians should be able to just hear the story without seeing all of this drama and understand to be moved to be involved. I told him we have a lot of Thomases who need to see to believe. Fortunately they said thaey don't blame me or us for the fact that the situation is that way and they understand that we are doing a necessary job, but they are grieved that it is necessary because it makes their life so much more difficult and it places an extra burdern on them that they believe is not a justified burden. They are burdend by the ministry needs and are troubled that they are asked to bear the risk of having everything jeapordized by having photograhic crews coming in.
Bosnia - continued
I may have mentioned that a crew from the James Robeson ministry came through some time ago - a year or so maybe - with a big Betacam camera like I usually use. They were out shooting the first day and the police picked them up and threw them in jail. Nikola was able to defuse the situation and get them and their camera out of jail the next day although the tape they had shot was all destroyed. Well, those guys went home with an interesting story of their adventure, but Nikola had to live with a police tail for six months and some measure of harassment during that time. It was very difficult for him, so he is very sensitive about westerners coming and taking pictures and causing a problem to the ongoing ministry here.
I am troubled by his concern and it hurts me to see him having to bear this burden. Nevertheless I was sent here to do a job and as a professional I have to do it. Either you get the story or you don't. When I go back and talk to Pastor John Rowell excuses are not what he wants to have purchased with the money that's been spent. He needs the story and that's what I'm here to do. So I have to press though it troubles me to have to do it sometimes.
Now we have more than enough material to tell the story so I'm just going to lay low and not try for anything else. We do have one or two other small things to get; the Judo club and such which are things he understands we needs, but I think he'll be glad to see me go. And I don't blame him at all.
The other thing that troubles them is that this is not the first time. This has happened several times when crews have come in and it's always the same thing: everyone wants to shoot the front lines or shoot the burned out buildings and shoot things that are dangerous. It keeps happening it sounds like over and over although they said it was a year or so ago the last time. But the situation changes and each group has a different focus in what they want covered so of necessity to our visually clamoring audience in the west we have to come again.
Yesterday I met Rob, the guy who lives in the same building with David. He's a bachelor and with Pioneers mission. This morning I met Michael. His wife Diana was at the guest house last night. Michael was here in Yugoslavia before the war and he went into Sarajevo and got back late last night. Quite an interesting tale of talking his way through tight spots with checkpoints, but he seems to know his way around this quite well. A very resourceful man. He got out of Sarajevo and ended up running out of gas, so somehow he hitched a ride and got into Mostar, got Rob and they went back and towed the vehicle. That all took most of the night. But he was pretty laid back and calm today when I met him. Just all in a day's work I guess.
The old bridge is called the Stari Most bridge.
Nikola and Sandra Skrinjaric.
Klaus Domke is the missionary from Germany married to the Croation girl.
Karmelo Kresonja is the pastor here.
The fellow from Great Britain who brought the Land Rover 1500 miles is Paul Brooks with Youth for Christ.
Nikola calls the red Land Rover "Grandfather" because it's old and cranky.
August 7, 10:50PM
We did our shooting at the Judo club around noon and went over to David's and relaxed for quite a while. Then Dave, Bill, Janice, and I had a little meal and then went over to the east side. Janice had not been there yet. She had heard so much about Mostar it was quite a wonderful experience for her to finally get to the east side. (About 6 months or so later she returned to the city and has been living on the east side since as far as I know.) We took a few more pictures and wondered around. We found the old man who had the 500 year old house and were telling Janice it was going to be a special surprise, but we walked around a bit, stopped and had some coffee at a cafe overlooking the river and kinda dreamed of how it must have been here before all the destruction. And drinking in some of the romance of the city. And then when we were ready to go to the house the old man was gone. We walked up to the house trying to find him, but he wasn't there. So I ran back the area around the bridge to see if I could find him but I could not. The others waited till I got back to them. We never did find the old man. So they'll have to go into the house another day. But at least they saw where it is. Bill and I kept looking around for shrapnel. I found a few more pieces. (These have sat on my desk at home ever since.)
We came back to the guest house and had to go down to the little store and buy some stuff to drink. Had a nice little meal. In the morning we'll leave here to go to the camp on the coast.
August 8, 1:00PM
We're on our way out of Bosnia. We left Mostar behind, took one last shot of the vista of the city from the mountainside. We just passed the road that turns off to Medugorje (Maji-gory-a) which is five miles away. This is where pilgrims come to see the vision of Mary that's supposedly happens. A big shrine to Mary there.
We just passed through Cipluk on the way. A town of about twenty or thirty thousand people. About the size of Downers Grove, Illinois where I grew up. We were driving through thinking about the fact that there is no voice for Christ, no witness in that whole town. There's town after town after town as we've driven around Bosnia where there's nobody. In fact upon visiting the church in Tuzla and the church in Mostar - there's another small group of about a dozen believers in Sarajevo - and Rob the Pioneers guy is meeting with a small group up in another town a bit north of Mostar and that's basically it. The Evangelical church - there is no other voice here. And yet so many towns, so many people and no one to tell them the Good News. We must pray that the Lord will raise up laborers, particularly out of these young churches, who will go out and spread the Good News.
We're at Tucepi where the camp is going on. Actually it's based at a hotel here underwritten by Novi Most, affiliated with Youth for Christ in England, Novi Most meaning "New Bridge" as opposed to Stari Most, the "Old Bridge" of Mostar. Building new bridges of reconciliation between the three people groups of Mostar. One of the main things they've been doing lately is running camps here at the coast away from the fighting and the stress of war. It seems to be a great tonic for the kids and a great opportunity to deal with them on a spiritual level. Camp is always good for this, but kids coming out of a war zone seem to be even more spiritually open.
We stopped at a little cafe and had pizza. It was near a marina where we looked at boats and everything - with the sunny Adriatic. We were wondering whether or not our families had heard about the shelling incident and how worried they must be about us right now if they'd heard. And here we are in a Mediterranean paradise having a great meal.
August 8, 10:30PM
Well, the "Grandfather" made it down here to Tuchepi as I mentioned earlier. We found the gang on the beach - all the kids sponsored by Novi Most to come to camp here. Camp being "camp out" at a hotel. Not quite like any camp I have experienced before. We got to work - did an interview with a gal on the beach. Got Paul doing a stand-up, actually a walk along, we walked along the beach as he talked. (I was so pleased with how this worked. I routinely do that kind of thing now with the Steadicam and it comes out much smoother with so much less effort.) Did a few other stand ups here and there - one with him leaning against a green Land Rover belonging to the British military. Since Paul is a Brit, it seemed appropriate.
There are about 100 British troops here, all part of the UN rapid deployment force. Not the guys in the white vehicles with the blue helmets, but guys who wear camoflage. They've been here for six or nine months or something and are just here at the hotel on R&R. Paul was talking to one of the officers who said they have no idea why they are here, but they suspect it's to pull out the rest of the UN troops. And although the Bosnian people are angry that the UN is not doing anything to protect them, they are keeping the roads open and keeping the supply routes for humanitarian aid open. So, that is actually quite a significant contribution to the situation here.
Anyway, then I shot some kids playing in the water. A bit unusual because I waded out and shot back toward the beach with them horsing around in the foreground. Shot them at dinner and while I was waiting for them to finish their meal I left the camera with Paul and his wife and went swimming for about forty five minutes. I had heard that this beach was clothing optional. It proved to be true.
Came back to our little room - Janice found us a little room for the night for fifteen marks, which is about eight or nine dollars I guess. We had a little dinner of juice and bread and yougart and cheese. Then went and did some taping at their meeting. Lots of skits and music and laughing and a short talk. Had quite a group of kids - probably about fifty or so down here. It's high school kids this week. Next week they're doing the same thing with grade school kids.
So now it's to bed. We have to wake up about 3:00 o'clock to leave at 4:00 to drive down to Split, which is about an hour and a half drive, to catch our plane which leaves at 6:40AM. On our way walking back to our room we went by the beach. The moon was almost full, shimmering with spectral highlights on the Adriatic. It was a gorgeous sight. Or as Janice would say, "Romantic in the broadest sense of the word."
There was some talk in Mostar today about the Zagreb airport being closed. We "afraid" that we might get stuck here for a couple of days. It would be the best place I can think of to be stuck, but, alas, the word is that the airport is open so we go tomorrow. Too bad.
We heard a story about the shell that hit the modern hotel in Mostar when we were there. It came through the roof and blew up in a hallway in between two rooms. One of the rooms had a guy in the bathroom taking a shower. The walls absorbed all the shrapnel and he wasn't hurt, but it was very close. Talk about feeling vulnerable.
August 9, 8:00AM, Zagreb airport
I'm on my way home. Said good-bye to David and Janice back in Split. We woke up at 3:30 and left at 4:30. Saw the sun come up over the mountains out the back of the Land Rover as we rode along. Bill flew with me on this first leg, but we'll be saying good-bye here at Zagreb as he goes to Zurich and I'm on to London. So, looks like I'm making it out of here in one piece.
Even ended up getting the map I wanted. David found one at the Split airport and bought it for me. Handed it to me just before I got to the gate.
The water here is fantastic to drink. There are so many mountains and springs. They have the best water I've had from a tap anywhere in the world.
August 9, 12:00 noon, Croatia Airlines flight 490, Zagreb-London
We're now overflying Brussels, Belgium. I can see it very well. We passed over the Austrian Alps, but they were shrouded in cloud. The Boeing 737 is not even half full, so I took a nap stretched out on three seats.
Touchdown, Chicago. I've been traveling for 24 hours. Met Cosa and his wife originally from Serbia. Happened to be sitting next to me. His father is Serbian, his mother Croatian. Mother was born in Medugorje. He hadn't heard that the Stari Most bridge was blown up. He was disgusted with that. He said that he'd heard that Serbia has 500,000 troops ready to move and hundreds of tanks. So, things have been heating up worse than ever it seems. Kinda glad I'm out of there.
He's a high class refugee. He lives in the New York City area. Has his own small construction company. But he said when the war is over he and his wife will be on the first plane back home.
September 22, 1997
Two years later I'm finally finishing the transcribing of this journal from the original microcassettes. We ended up editing two versions of the Bosnia video at the Walk Through the Bible facility which at the time was in operation in Charlotte on the grounds of Heritage USA, the abortive theme park dream of Jim Bakker. Being from Orlando and familiar with all that is Disney, that place really seemed like a cheap wannabe. Anyway, the Walk Through video system was all digital and really a great system. The engineer that kinda ran the place died suddenly about a year ago and I heard they were going to shut the place down and sell off the gear.
The editing went really well. My contributions to the process were very well received and appreciated. During those days at one of our mealtimes John Rowell told me he was going to try to get his church to support us, which they ended up doing. This was really significant because their church is so very involved in their own missions outreach and in supporting their own people. I thought they would be the last folks to support some outside missionary, let along a Campus Crusade staff member. I didn't even consider asking him. But it happened. John saw what I had to offer and he valued it.
The video was distributed to many Evangelical Free churches. They told me it was being used effectively, but now that a couple of years have gone by I'll have to ask them for some results stories.
Well, there it is. Another travel journal all typed up. Someday I'll have to put all of them together into a book. Maybe one of my grandchildren will read it. Shoot, I just may read it myself. I've already forgotten half of this stuff. If I didn't have the tape to bring back the memories, it would be gone for good. Maybe you should take a lesson. Once in a while when something interesting happens in your life, write it down. Then when you're too old to remember (like me), you'll be able to anyway.
Copyright ©1998 by Dan Philgreen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED