Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Good Serbian - Reworking a Parable of Jesus

In 1999 when I was a cadet in The Salvation Army (similar to a seminary student), I received a very unusual practicum assignment. I was to go out with a team of Salvationists to Albania during the 1999 Balkan War between Serbia and Kosova. Yes, the Serbs call it Kosovo. The Albanians call it Kosova. Since I was helping Albanians, I decided to honor them by calling it Kosova.

I had never been in a war zone before. This was a first for me. I will never forget the flyovers of fighter jets, the hot dusty trails, and the construction engineering of Communist Albania.

Which came first? The highway or the pylon?

Albania had changed so much in the short time since Enver Hoxha (the communist dictator of Albania) died and isolationist communism with him.

Just across the border in Kosova, civil war had erupted and the Serbs were forcibly kicking Albanians out of Kosova, imprisoning hundreds of men just because they were of fighting age, and killing thousands. The human toll was horrific. The stories I heard were disturbing. Kosovar men in prison were taken to courtyards, handcuffed, and then allowed to be beaten by Serbian children. Serbian soldiers would rape girls as young as 15 years old while their family was forced to watch. Then, because the women were Muslim, the Serbs would carve the Cross into their breasts. There was no love between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs. The hate went back for 500 years.

As an inexperienced cadet, who nevertheless had an enthusiasm about serving and wanting to learn languages, I felt overwhelmed in my assignment. I started learning Albanian and trying to speak it with anyone who wanted to speak with me. Funnily enough, there were several young Kosovars who wanted to speak English with us.

One of them became my translators. His name was Kreshnik and he was from the town of Gjakova in southwest Kosova. Kreshnik was only 15 at the time, but could already speak Albanian, English, Serbo-Croatian, and Italian. Our assignment was providing food for the refugee camps at Hamallaj, which was located on the coast of Albania on the Adriatic Sea.

At its height, we had 5000 refugees in these camps. We worked with 2 organizations:  the Norwegian People's Aid and Samaritan's Purse. These 2 agencies set up the camps and we supplied the food. When we first got there, Kreshnik and I were walking together and passed by one of the vehicles from Samaritan's Purse.

Kreshnik asked me, "What does 'Samaritan's Purse' mean?" Of course, I knew the story from the Bible about the Good Samaritan, but Kreshink, who grew up in a nominal Muslim family, would never have heard of the story. I thought about how I could explain it best. So I told him this story:

A Kosovar was traveling from Prishtina to Prizren (2 cities in Kosova). On the way, his car was pulled over by bandits and he was mugged and left for dead on the side of the highway. While he lay there, a Kosovar was driving by, saw the man lying in the ditch, but passed him by. An Albanian likewise saw the man lying in a ditch, but hit the accelerator and zoomed past the man lying there. Awhile later, a Serb also drove up, but instead of passing him by, he pulled his car over, got out his first aid kit, and began to help the man. He put the Kosovar in his car and drove him to the nearest hospital. At the hospital, the Serb paid for the Kosovar's medical expenses and made certain he had a way home after he was released.

Many of you would recognize this story as the altered version of the Good Samaritan. When I told this story to Kreshnik, I wasn't prepared for his reaction. His jaw dropped in shock and he exclaimed, "A Serb would NEVER help out one of my people!" Then I explained to him that this was the message of Jesus: we are to love everyone, especially our enemies. The message was hard, but it also emphasized God's greatest command:  to love God with our whole being and to love our fellow human as we do ourselves.

In my years as an officer, I had often struggled with trying to find a similar "enemy" for American Christians to identify with. Then it occurred to me. There is such a huge backlash among American Christians towards the LGBT Community. Many feel that they are out to get us, but in truth, 91% of non-Christians in America describe Christians first and foremost as being anti-gay.

The fact is that we Christians need to overcome this image. We need to love first and foremost and forget the judging. Forget the so-called "teaching others." This "teaching" is not accepted by non-Christians. Love is universally accepted.

We should love others, just like the Good Transsexual.

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