Passing the peace to the world

 In your presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16)

It is a blessing to have the opportunity to step out of one’s own culture for months at a time, to experience another culture and to see one’s own culture in a fresh way.

For the next several months I will be living and working in Sarajevo and traveling from there to visit MCC’s programs in Iraq, Ukraine, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

My first week in Sarajevo is largely filled with orientation with MCC Europe and Middle East area director Amela Puljek-Shank and with the Eastern Europe country staff. I’ve settled into a small apartment and have begun exploring the city.

Sarajevo has a rich faith tradition history. While the city is 95% Muslim today, there are Jewish, Catholic and Orthodox traditions present here as well. Yesterday, I was able to visit some of the oldest places of worship in the old part of the city for all four faith traditions.

I am quickly learning that the deep conflicts in this region that resulted in a war 20 years ago, are less about religion and more about ethnicity and culture. Over a meal, Amela shares a bit about her own family’s history with me, and about her parents’ commitment to Tito’s vision of a socialist Yugoslavia, despite their own Muslim and Orthodox backgrounds.

But somewhere in that family story, Amela was drawn to Christianity and her sister was attracted to Islam. During the war, when her family lacked sufficient shelter and food, it was German Mennonites who shared food with her family. Amela eventually became a relief volunteer for the German Mennonites herself and she met another volunteer from America, Randy, who later became her husband.

With two of MCC’s service workers, I visited a former synagogue that is now a museum. While the Jewish community in Sarajevo is very small today, a book in this former synagogue records the names of 12,000 Jews who lost their lives during World War II.

There are also Baptist and evangelical churches in the city, as well as a Mennonite house church which meets on an irregular basis. On my first Sunday morning in the city, I hear the church bells of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church across the courtyard from my apartment and make my way into the church for worship with several hundred others.

Though there was little I could understand during the service, I was told when the pastor prayed for the church around the world. And when we were asked to pass Christ’s peace to each other, it occurred to me we were also passing God’s peace to the whole world.

I have settled into a routine here of reading five Psalms each morning and a chapter from Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity. Psalm 16 includes these words:
You show me the path of life.
            In your presence there is fullness of joy;
            in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

I am hoping to learn more about the path of life and the fullness of joy in the days ahead. And I am praying for God’s peace to be a reality here and in my own country as well.
Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S.  


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