Residents from the former Yugoslavia worshipped together during the 60th General Conference Session
July 22, 2015 Victor Hulbert, communication director, Seventh-day Adventist Church, UK & Ireland.
On the day that Serbia’s Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, was chased away by stone-throwing protesters at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a rich mix of 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists representing almost every culture on the planet found themselves in joint, heart-felt worship at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Very moving, for two of the worshippers, was the sight of a joint banner, the six flags of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia, stitched together and prominently draped over the 5th level balcony to the right of the stage. It was a moving symbol of forgiveness and unity in the context of a service that focused on the hope that Seventh-day Adventists have in a Saviour that can and does change lives.
Dejan Stojkovic is Serbian. He now lives in the UK where he works in Teen’s ministry. When just a teen himself he escaped military service in the war that split Yugoslavia, fleeing across the border in a hearse on its way to a funeral. The break-up of his country was painful to him and his family. His father had worked as a pastor whose ministry crossed cultural and ethnic boundaries.
That pain became bittersweet when he met the young lady who now sits by his side. Deana comes from what, geographically and politically, is ‘the other side of the fence’. She is from Croatia, but ended up without passport or nationality – so today the passport she travels on is Bosnian. She equally works for the church within the Communication and Media department of their Trans-European Regional office in St Albans, England and has discovered that love has no barriers. Dejan and Deana have now been married for five years. They don’t mind what flag is flying, for them the flag to fly most high is the one for Jesus.
To see the ‘six-flag’ banner hanging above the 70,000 Adventists was, for them, a meaningful emphasis of what it means to be part of a global church family, representatives of 168 countries meeting in worship, and singing together ‘Lift Up the Trumpet and loud let it ring, Jesus is coming again’.
Up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys died at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces amid the break-up of Yugoslavia. Serbia had backed the Bosnian Serbs. On Saturday, 11 July, Mr Volvic had been attempting a gesture of peace, apology and reconciliation in joining with other world leaders at a ceremony in Bosnia-Herzegovina to pay respects at the Srebrenica graveyard where more than 100 newly found remains were to be buried with 6,000 other massacre victims. However, he became a target of abuse, the hissing crowd hurling rocks and bottles at him.
"I regret that some people haven’t recognized my sincere intention to build friendship between Serbian and Bosniak people," he said later. "I still give my hand to the Bosniak people. I will continue with that … and always be ready to work together to overcome problems."
It is a sad story that clearly is not yet complete. Even more sad that it is not unique but has been repeated in multitudes of ways in countries around the world. Rwanda saw its own genocide – and yet has also seen amazing stories of reconciliation and healing. In South Africa we have seen once divided communities coming together.
Even in Adventist meetings this past week people have sometimes strongly expressed very different points of view, particularly on issues surrounding the ordination of women, and may have had to agree to disagree, or graciously accepted the results of a disappointing vote for them. However, on Saturday, despite such differences, they were able to sit and worship together under the same united flag. As World Church President, Pastor Ted Wilson said in his sermon, "Don’t get stuck on one side or the other of the road – keep in the middle of God’s Word."
Evidence of this was seen both in the morning and the afternoon programme. Church members thrilled to see the way God was drawing communities together, be it health ministry in Jakarta, major evangelism in Zimbabwe, or one committed lady in an un-entered part of China who has has planted ten churches.
For Dejan and Deana, holding hands in a dome filled with Adventist members from so many different cultures and background, many in national costumes, and with even the music and scripture coming in a multitude of languages, this is a little picture of the future. "The Book of Revelation paints a wonderful picture of heaven", Dejan enthuses. "It describes ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’ [Rev 7:9 NIV] United in Christ, today was just a tiny glimpse heaven.