Suffering with Christ in Orahovac

a cute kitten

 

If there is one thing I’ll never forget about Kosovo, it’s Orahovac. There was a time when Muslim Albanians and Serbian Christians lived there together in peace. There was a time when three thousand Serbs called Orahovac home. And then came the war, the Unrest of 2004, and the systematic persecution of Christians in Kosovo. The shrinking population of Serbs who refused to leave their homeland gathered together around the village church on the hill for protection, on the one remaining street which has become a Serbian ghetto. 
We were there to visit one of these families, friends of Nikola and Ivan. To say that the Radic family have been through a lot is an understatement. They’ve endured their world being turned upside down, their friends and family being threatened, and neighbors kidnapped, tortured, and worse. Yet they have been resilient and have refused to let the joyful light of Christ go out in their hearts. They are a living testimony to what it means to suffer with Christ.
 
Olivera, the mother, took us on a short walk around the village. As we got to the end of the Serbian ghetto, you could see the difference in the state of the road–the Serbian section being full of potholes as the Kosovar government deliberately neglects it. We encountered a group of Serbian children playing soccer on the street and stopped to speak with them and take a picture. At Olivera’s request, we all made the sign of the Trinity with our fingers, probably in order to show solidarity and encourage the children. There came a point where we passed an Albanian family’s house, and she thought it best we quiet down until we passed that part of the street. 
 
She pointed at a building in a distance, “Both of our children were born in that hospital”, she said with a smile. We walked by a downtrodden house with barbed wire on the crowning the high wall. “A Serb lives here”, she said. It wasn’t difficult to spot the burnt ruins of the houses where Serbs once lived. We came to an intersection and she pointed at a two-storey house to the right and told us the story of a Croatian couple who had lived there until they were kidnapped and driven out. 
 
Then we came across an elderly woman with a smile on her face. She was an Serbian baba (grandmother), related to the Radic family in some way. She told us the story of the building behind her, a school which had belonged to the Serbian Church, and was saved from being seized by the Communist government by a clever bishop. She was overjoyed to see young people from abroad visiting and wanted to take a picture with us too. 
 
As we rounded the corner back to her street, Olivera said “This was the lively center of town where everyone used to go out for coffee and drinks at night. That was the most popular cafe in Orahovac,” she pointed at an abandoned storefront. 
 
(And it continues. Just a week after later, the Orahovac community suffered more intimidation from their Albanian Muslim neighbors who chose their street, of all the places in the village, to shoot a nationalistic Albanian music video, waving a large Albanian flag and blaring their music.)
 
Back at the house, they sat all seven of us around a their dinner table with their daughter and husband. I noticed there weren’t enough seats for Olivera herself, but she insisted on this as it was her honor to host us and be able to serve us at the table. 
 
As we enjoyed their incredible hospitality, the delicious food and homemade wine, we exchanged songs and stories at the table. At some point neighbors came and the family gave up their seats so that they could serve them as well. Nikola told us that this is a common thing in the villages for neighbors to drop by for meals, and the Serbian Orahovac community is particularly close-knit due to their shared experiences and situation. 
 
During the meal they recounted a horrific story of the kidnapping of a local Serbian family, the child going mad from hearing his parents screams as they were tortured in an adjacent room, and how the grandmother’s hair went from black to white in the two days they were held captive. 
 
And at the same meal they asked us about ourselves and we talked about their daughter’s plans for university, their son’s studies in Greece, his band and teaching position in a neighboring city, and their hopes for their children’s future. 
 
The Orthodox community in Orahovac are paradigms for the Life in Christ. Their glowing smiles show us that despite the darkness there is always light. There is hope–hope in Christ.
Originally published at: Death to the World
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