NLF Testimonials - Mary Jo Kowalewski

September 27, 2017

NLF Testimonials - Mary Jo Kowalewski

A Bosnian Woman Named Seka

By Mary Jo Kowalewski

Pastor Bo was preaching away, going on about being able to “listen to God,” being ready and willing to take a “faith-filled” risk for His Kingdom . . . blah . . . blah . . . blah.  I’m starting to doze off as he completes the sermon and moves into the weekly announcements. He begins to say, “We are sending a mission team to Bosnia this summer . . . .”  I don’t really recall what he said after that.  Suddenly, my heart started pounding rapidly and I gasped for air.  My mind began to race and my thoughts went something like this; “Go to Bosnia, why would you want me to go there?  Come on God, you can’t be serious, what could I do in a war-torn country like that?  What are you saying?  Leave my family for three weeks to spend time with needy people in a country I know hardly anything about.  God, you know I have a seven year old to care for.  That’s important to you too, isn’t it?  Although this back and forth battle with God continued in my mind, I knew that I had to go.

I peered over at my husband who was sitting peacefully beside me, completely unaware of the battle raging in my head with God.  I leaned over and hesitantly whispered in his ear, “Honey, I’m not sure why, but I think I’m supposed to go to Bosnia.”  He just starred at me for a moment with a look of disbelief on his face.  Then he very sternly whispered back to me, “Have you lost your mind completely, and is that place even safe?”  

That was the beginning of an adventure that would change my perspective on life forever.  I had no idea as I sat there, but God was about to show me Himself in the form of one Bosnian woman who was willing to trust Him with her entire being.

I met Seka my second week in Bosnia.  I remember looking at her apartment building as we walked up her street.  The facade of the old brick structure still had shell holes from the civil war that had almost destroyed this once beautiful city.  Little did I know at the time that those bullet holes were a constant reminder to Seka of the loss she had suffered during the war that raged in Bosnia Herzegovina just a few years back. Seka was a fifty something woman, with kind eyes and a genuine smile that made you feel so at home.  She was neatly dressed and perfectly made up.  Seka and her husband lived very modestly in this tiny apartment but it had such a warm sense of peace.  There were hand made lace doilies and table linens covering everything.  She started out our visit by serving us delicious home made desserts, strong Bosnian coffee and fresh squeezed lemonade.  She was a gracious host. As we visited we learned of Seka’s great skills in knitting and crocheting.  When we asked her how she got started making these beautiful crafts, Seka told us her story in these words:

“Just as the war was breaking out, my husband and I traveled to the countryside to do some work.  We took our three year old granddaughter with us.  When we set out from Mostar we never dreamed what would happen in our city, that the war would spread all over Bosnia Herzegovina and that it would come so quickly to our City and in such magnitude.   We intended to go for just a couple of days but it would be several years before we could return to our home.”

“My son and daughter-in-law remained in Mostar and since their only child was with us, we longed to make contact with them.  We attempted to enter the city a couple of times, but the war was so intense that there was no means of contact even though we were just thirty miles away.  We learned later that just two months after we had left Mostar our beloved son lost his young life.  He was leaving the house for work and a grenade fell and killed him instantly at the very doorstep of our building.   When our daughter-in-law finally made contact with us, there was no end to my pain.  I didn’t know what to do with myself, much less what to do with my granddaughter.  How could I explain all of this in a way that she could understand?  All she knew was that she wanted to be with her Daddy.  There was no way for her to comprehend this tragedy.  For a while I wrote letters to my granddaughter from my son, so I could read them to her.  I did not want her to forget him or his deep love for her.   I asked God the same question over and over, 'Why did He take away my beloved child?'  I began to hate Mostar and everything in it.  I dreamed about moving far away.  But God had a better plan for me right here in Bosnia Herzegovina.”

“I returned to Mostar in 1995 and the war ended in 1996.  I began to attend a local church with my daughter-in-law.  With each service, I felt God healing my heart and the pain became less intense.  I wanted to live my life for God and find complete peace in what I was doing.   One day I was waiting in line for free clothing that the church was distributing and I saw a lot of yarn and crochet thread.  At that moment I heard God telling me to draw on the talents He had given me to use these materials for His glory.  I had an idea to start a group that would teach other women to knit and crochet and allow us to heal the pain from the war together.  I went to our Pastor and asked if I could use a room in the church building for my classes.  I started meeting with other women who wanted to learn a new skill and talk about life after the war and other spiritual things.  Our group was mixed ethnically, culturally, generationally and religiously.  This was not normal in Bosnia since the war had caused such mistrust between the different ethnic and religious groups through out the country.  The group quickly grew and God worked through our pain and differences as only He can.”

   After meeting Seka and hearing her story, it was pretty clear to me that when we listen to God anything can happen.  Seka’s small group of women in Mostar has grown to several groups in five different cities throughout Bosnia Herzegovina.  “The Bosnian Handcraft Project” inspired by Seka, has allowed women who were otherwise unable to find jobs to use their skills to feed their families.

When I returned home from Bosnia, it was immensely difficult for me to assimilate back into my normal routines.  I felt it was unfair that we have so much and these women were working so intensely each day just to have so little.  This, I realized, was an internal struggle that I was going to have to live with but I also understood more clearly why God had sent me to Bosnia.  God used this trip to unsettle my worldview and alter my trajectory in life.  Through Seka and the situation in Bosnia, God had given me a glimpse of the world as He sees it.

I am sure that when Seka laid her eyes on the pile of yarn and thread while standing in that humanitarian aid line, she had no idea what was going to happen because of her willingness to listen.  God has grown her little group of women in Mostar beyond Seka’s wildest dreams.  The fact that families all over Bosnia are being fed because of Seka’s willingness to say “yes” makes my heart come alive.  Seka was and continues to be a true inspiration to me.

NLF Testimonials -  Mary Jo Kowalewski