A few weeks in Bosnia

I feel it’s only normal to take this much time after a mission before I write too much about what it was like: I neither want to be too emotional about it or focus on details that were only important there and not here.

So here it goes.

There was lots of driving. I’m talking going from Lille, France, to Zenica, Bosnia. That’s France – Belgium – Germany – Austria – Croatia – Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Above are just a few places we discovered while driving: our first night in Austria was absolutely gorgeous, sleeping in tents and waking up to a foggy romantic lake was surreal. Truly an Instagram-worthy morning.  Driving that many hours in a few different cars led to many strange behaviours: some created songs/dances (link here), while others slept or watched movies. My car was pretty lucky with our A/C and multiple movies to choose from – but beware! If the car turns off, you have to start the movie over from the beginning and nothing can be skipped. You can’t even begin to imagine the stress in our little entertainment-starved souls.

Games. So many games. A few of us drove to the center each day to help the AWESOME team there with their days, and I can’t tell you enough times how great they were, and such hard-working/highly educated people. I learned from them daily: their perseverance, sensitivity, and high energy even when exhausted.


These kids were full of love. I don’t think anyone could make me cry as well as they did (after I left of course). They were funny, smart, sassy, shy, rebellious at times and always loyal to their team during games. A majority of these kids were at the day center because their parents couldn’t afford to provide food or clothing for them – and the reason for that was really different from family to family.

A little background on Zenica: this city is basically composed of those who work for ArcelorMittal, and those who don’t (either unemployed or working with less influential companies in the area). ArcelorMittal is a steel company that employs about 3000 workers in Bosnia (320,000 employees in over 60 countries today).

You know that gross feeling you get when you see the backend of a restaurant you used to like? Or when a “friend” turns their back on you and shows an ugly side? That’s what it felt like to discover Arcelormittal in Bosnia. Tumours in this city have increased at an alarming speed over the past 10 years, and between 2002 and 2011 these have been the second leading cause of death (20%) in residents. 


Cantonal deputy and Eko forum activist (also a surgeon, because he’s a winner) says:

“With prolonged exposure to these pollutants, as is the case in Zenica, an increase is normal in the number of cancer of various organs, depending on the specificities of pollutants. Namely, benzene causes problems at lungs and the urinary tract and interacts with human DNA, thus coming into contact with the foetus. Cadmium causes lung problems, lead damages the central nervous system, kidneys, liver…There is no need to provide special evidence and say that we are going to see an increase in the number of malignant diseases in the long term because of the phenomenon of sedimentation. We already do”.

If you’re interested in this issue, many people have written very thorough essays on the question and I’d encourage you to take a look.

Now, when I saw this my first reaction was to write all the important/influential people I could think of and get ArcelorMittal to change their ways – right? Well, this would be  a fair reaction in our eyes, but unfair in the eyes of the employees in Zenica. Let me explain: remember those kids up there? Their parents need jobs, money and an occupation to have social standing. As selfish and disinterested as Arcelormittal’s ways are, they are providing exactly what Zenica citizens need, and if they get too much negative attention the danger is that they’d just move a few cities away, or a few countries away. That would mean going back to a jobless city and many families losing their purchasing power.

Another interesting read: here. And Arcelor’s response.

It truly is like seeing a rat in a classy restaurant’s kitchen. Ugly, ugly.


This is on our daily ride to the Day Centre with the kids. It was really interesting to see how destroyed the city still is from the Serbian-Bosnian war in the 1990s – many homes are just rubbles from which material has been taken to build a new house a few feet from them. Photos are actually completely illegal and you can possibly get your camera taken from you, especially near the Croatian/Bosnian border.


Back to cars: there are no rules it seems in these cars. We were often quite a few for each seat, and it was really funny how quickly our little French bodies got used to the intense heat/sweat/proximity. It was good for us.


Free time at the farm – but first, our non-free time. Each day we’d meet at 8 for breakfast, but before that lot’s of hard-working FEU people would wake up as early as 4 to work outside. A few examples of projects we worked on:

  • Cutting away the shrub/trees/bushes off the street. This took us 3 weeks to finish
  • Digging a few feet down over a few kilometres (I’m really bad at guessing so being vague will have to do) to run an electrical cord up to a water pump
  • Digging lots of feet down to get low enough to reach the area where the water would gather
  • Gathering fruits to make…
  • Hundreds of pots of jam, ratatouille and sauce
  • Digging a crater (definitely a farming term guys) around hundreds (I’m serious) of apple trees/pear trees.
  • Cleaning the farm/around


So back to free time: I loved discovering the vaste land around the farm. Walter, the missionary who heads this farm and lots of the work done with the homeless/children in Zenica, has been buying more and more of the land to be able to ultimately help hundreds of people in many different ways: provide jobs for young men on the farm, bring food to the kids in the day center and their parents, buy food and clothes for these same families, and ultimately bring Christ to the people of Zenica. If you want to help him financially, he’s doing a lot more than many politicians ever have.


Another activity we really enjoyed (obvi) was the pizza. This pizza was a life saver (for all you gluten-free babies like me just know that you will ultimately have to make a choice: either be sick all night or eat the toppings off each pizza).

A few of the people who were used to going to the day center with the kids went with them to a 1 week camp. It was amazing! Being able to spend our days/evenings with them a the lake, playing games and brushing our teeth was just such a great way to get to know them and talk. I loved so much every time the kids came out of the lake frozen to their bone after a long morning playing, and they’d just run to us and wait until we’d be able to get them warm again on our laps. My favorite day was with little Ahmed and his brother, where they both sat on my lap while we sang some french church songs and kept them warm. Very precious.



After our week away from the farm, it was time to have a little  trip to Sarajevo, which was really impressive. It’s a gorgeous city, and such a contrast to the industrial town that is Zenica. We ate lots of kebabs, fresh fruit and chocolate (all the girls were seriously suffering from the lack of chocolate at the farm).




Our last day on the farm. It was bittersweet: lots of us were thinking about our new year at school and all the details that were still to be determined. We also had some things to finish on the farm like digging around the trees, cleaning the kitchen and the camping ground. It was sad to think of all the kids we were leaving, as our love for them had grown over the weeks. Imagining ourselves in our health/wealth which they didn’t have access to was difficult, and yet so easily forgotten.

A drive back: rain, sunshine and all kinds of other things faced us on our way home. It was sweet, and we were welcomed in Austria with a huge barbecue and meal – just a total life saver with the sadness of leaving each other. Jesus’ name was shared, we learned alot, got hurt and ate the most wonderful food.



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