Regaining what has been lost

Would you still want to kill me?

After the war in Sarajevo, Amra Pandzo started working with MCC. After some peace training, she decided she wanted to devote her life to help build peace in her country.

By day, Amra is a librarian, but she also started a small organization called Small Steps to work in the public school system. Children receive religious public education at school, but because children are separated for this education according to their background – Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim – the religious education contributes to deepening religious and ethnic divides.

Amra has since created a Handbook for Religious Muslim Teachers. She told me that her goal for the handbook was to do for the Koran what Mennonites have done with the Bible – to look at the Holy Book from a peacemaking perspective. She has helped to train 1,500 Muslim teachers who are teaching religion in the schools.

More recently, she organized interfaith meetings for religious teachers. The workshops encourage teachers of all faiths to teach religion in a way that helps to build peace in the community and strengthens a commitment to non-violence. She says that after sufficient trust is built between the teachers, she can encourage them to ask each other the questions they’ve always been afraid to ask. One time, a teacher asked another: “If we had another war, would you still want to kill me?” Another teacher wanted conversation among the three faith traditions about who would be saved in the next world.

Amra says she’s attracted to MCC and to Mennonites because she observes that for Mennonites, religion doesn’t seem to just be a label, but a way we live our lives. She told me she sometimes tells others that she sees herself as a Mennonite Muslim. I told her I wouldn’t necessarily share that part of the story with everyone I knew! 

We observed together that Christians across the spectrum are so different from one another, and so are Muslims. So many of us expect Christians to just help Christians and Muslims to just help Muslims, but that’s not what either of our faith traditions are about at their core.

Amra’s latest work is with children. She is planning to work with children in 10 different communities, to teach them about peace and to bring them together from different communities and different ethnic groups to learn about each other.

Amra says MCC has been a pillar of her work. She says, so often, other organizations come for two days and think they can tell you what to do, but MCC doesn’t work like that. MCC is a bridge between cultures.

“Sometimes we feel like people from the West are like children; they’ve never had the experience of waking up each day as we did during the war and reading in the paper that so many of our friends have died,” Amra shares with us. She believes so strongly that her work is helping to rebuild a community where so much has been lost.   

Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. He met Amra during a two-month sojourn in Sarajevo to visit MCC's programs there.


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