Stone dripping into the green river below. On November 9, 1993, a bridge that had stood for almost half a century finally disintegrated under artillery fire during the Bosnian war. It was a bridge for foot traffic in the touristy part of town, targeted because it symbolized unity. It was a representation of the beauty of living in a multicultural, diverse community. And it fell.
The first time I went to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a volunteer in mission with UMCOR, I stood on cobblestone in the old city, watching as men in speedos dove the almost 79 feet into the river below. The river Neretva is a beautiful river, green and clear. The bridge, newly built, was more beautiful. Stones washed clean as though they were the originals bathed for a decade safe from the violence above. As though the bridge was baptized and made new. Yet, on the mountain above, three huge crosses dominate, throwing a violent shadow over the city. A reminder that some are sorry the genocide was not completed.
Despite my own anger as a Christian against those who used Christ as a weapon, against those who were not creative enough to resist the impulse to violence as a means of solving their lack of ability to deal with changing communities, I find this place hauntingly beautiful. I want to place my hands in the holes left from bullets like Thomas placed his hands in the wounds left on Jesus's body.
And so I find myself returning again and again. First with UMCOR. UMCOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a neutral organization, one who did not leave the bad taste that the blue helmets of the UN left in the mouths of Sarajevans during the seige. Even more than a decade after the war, UMCOR was resettling folks back in their homes, helping them survive. I could see even from 2004 to 2006 a huge difference in the country as more and more people were able to get to their feet. And the beautiful people. The deep resonance of women's voices. The warmth of people's laughter (even as they laugh at you for your sorry attempt at speaking Bosnian).
This January was my fifth time to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aaron, my partner, brought me as a Christmas present. It was his first time to Bosnia. It is like going home. We go and have coffee with people, learn Turkish and Arabic words to impress our hosts and to make younger Bosnians laugh. I love to see new places, but these are the people and this is the land to which I will always return. You have not seen beauty until you drive from Mostar to Sarajevo. Until you have been held between the gray stone of the mountains. Until you stand on the cobblestone pathway of Old Town in Mostar, the stone imploring you to "Never Forget" on your left and that beautiful Ottoman bridge out in front of you, pleading for us to build bridges between our communities. Not to let those bridges crumble into the river below.