Serbia (MNN) — Anniversaries come round every year. Sometimes, the observation is to keep enmities alive. Sometimes, it’s a time to set new goals for growth.
The Yugoslav Wars were a series of ethnically-based wars fought between 1991 and 2001 inside the former Yugoslavia, a Communist country in the Eastern Bloc. When its constituent republics declared independence, the issues of the Serbs, Croats, and Albanians remained unresolved at the time the republics were recognized internationally.
The massacres that took place during the worst of the fighting were considered ethnic cleansing, bordering genocide, even though the United Nations argues over the use of the term in a U.N. resolution.
Crimes against humanity and other war crimes charges have been flung at one another between the combatants, with the end result a still simmering tension and little-to-no effort made toward reconciliation. So the question becomes: Serbia, 20-years after the terrible troubles of the 1990s: what has God been doing?
To answer this question, we spoke with TeachBeyond’s Andre Marotta. First, the background that created a love for the people and a heart for resolution. “I have been involved in Serbia since the 90s, and most of the 90s through humanitarian work done by churches and Christian organizations.”
In 2000, the old regime was ousted and Serbia emerged as a democratic country. Growing pains were part of the transition. “Since the democratic government took power in 2000, there was a surge of interest in the Orthodox Church and, to a certain extent, a sort of interest in spirituality, as such.”
In light of all that needed to be “fixed”, why focus on education in the post-war period? Marotta says, “Serbia, particularly, but also the whole Eastern Bloc, has had a system of education which didn’t go through any reforms for a long time. We’re talking about a system of education which is somewhat old-fashioned.”
During Communist times, there wasn’t religious education in the schools. From 2000 on, the Orthodox Church, with the government, managed to set up the subject of religious education. “We are talking about changes that are creating real opportunities to participate in the building up of not only the churches, but also, the contribution we can make at the level of society,” says Marotta.
TeachBeyond is thinking about taking over an English Language school in Belgrade and is sending a couple to work with displaced people in the south. Additionally, Marotto has a friend who teaches religious education in the public schools. This individual is opening a channel for TeachBeyond to support him and other committed believers in the Orthodox Church who want to see the religious education program bring transformation in students and society.
“The government is actually allowing teachers of religious education to teach the Bible. We have an opportunity to get involved and make a real contribution toward setting up a curriculum which will be relevant, in terms of teaching the Bible to kids who go to public schools.” He adds, “20-years ago, these changes would just be at the level of prayers.” Hopefully, 2017 will be a year for TeachBeyond partner growth, marked by certain events to reflect on “thus far, God has helped us” in the weeks to come.