Twenty Churches Burned in Kosovo, Leaders Call for Peace

"We need encouragement that we do not think what might happen, but that we can encourage people for peace"
( [email protected] ) Mar 19, 2004 08:18 AM EST

MITROVICA, Kosovo -- Church leaders in Kosovo called upon Christians to pray for the ethnic fighting that killed at least 31 people, injured 500 and destroyed over 20 Serbian churches in the past few days.

The clashes appeared to have begun as a spontaneous response to the drowning of two Albanian children in Mitrovica on Tuesday. One boy who had been with them said they had been chased by a group of men with dogs. Albanians blamed Serbs for the deaths.

The next day, hundreds of Albanians organized a mass protest and burned down Serb houses and churches. Soon after, the streets were littered with gun battles, fighting and riots. Despite United Nations’ peace-keeping efforts, scores of Serbian houses were set on fire, including those of priests and the elderly, and at least 20 churches were burned.

"There is a pattern emerging," said the Rev. Sava Janjic, speaking by phone from Decani monastery in western Kosovo. "The U.N. evacuates Serbs, and immediately afterwards Albanians come in and burn" houses and religious sites. Most Albanians are Muslim.

Reverend Bekim Beka, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Prishtina, Kosovo, said that in the midst of the heated violence targeted at the Serbian Christian minority, many people came to New Hope to pray and cry out to God, "to pour his grace and his peace to all citizens of Kosovo."

Rev. Beka also called upon Christians around the world to pray for the victims of hate. New Hope, which began with the help of the Baptist World Aid -- the Baptist World Alliance’s relief Arm, served as both a worship center and a place of relief for refugees caught in the war between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

BWAid also has helped with relief work in Serbia through Love Your Neighbor in Vrnjacka Banja, Tabitha in Novi Sad and Bread of Life in Belgrade, where unrest has also broken out.

Upon witnessing the scenes of violence, which were reminiscent of the evacuation of Serbian refugees at the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, BWAid workers expressed both fear and hope for the future. Nearly 100,000 Serbians were force to flee the province in 1999 because of the charged animosity from the native Albanians.

"I do hope and pray that this raising of ethnic tensions can be held down before the Balkans are once again caught up in a maelstrom of death and destruction,” said Paul Montacute, BWAid Director.

Zelimir and Branka Srnec who direct the work at Tabitha expressed shock that "there is such negative power which is ready to destroy lives and peace."

Nonetheless, Srnec held an unwavering hope for peace. "We need encouragement that we do not think what might happen, but that we can encourage people for peace."

Meanwhile, The Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle held a special prayer service and issued an appeal to Serbs to refrain from revenge.

Other Christian leaders around the world have also called for prayer and fasting for the next two days for peace and stability in the volatile country, comfort for families who have lost loved ones, for wisdom and direction for the authorities and above all for God's love to dwell in the hearts of the people.