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“The Church in Bosnia is like a tiny flower on a bare rock,” Jael Puusaag said.
“It is small, the surrounding surface hard,” Jael continued. “But [the Church] is staying alive, not blown away and showing an amazing strength of life. As it grows and takes root, it will break the hard ground and new life will emerge.”
Jael moved to Bosnia-Herzegovina 15 years ago and now leads an OM team in a Muslim town in the Northwest. Her team provides practical aid and supports a local church of around 25 people. It’s the only church within a two-hour drive.
Each summer Jael encourages believers to fill hundreds of donated schoolbags for distribution among impoverished children. Now in its eleventh year, “Schoolbags for Bosnia” continues to promote education, build relationships and show Christ’s love in communities.
“It blesses my heart when I see [the children’s] genuine smiles,” Jael emphasised. “And to see mums breaking down in tears because they didn’t know how they would make ends meet.”
Every backpack contains school materials and an envelope for the parents enclosing Christian literature and contact details of the local church. Each year a handful of people respond to the invitation by requesting additional books or the New Testament.
“In most places we are the first followers of Jesus they have ever met,” Jael said.
At the start of term in September 2015, Schoolbags for Bosnia helped a total of 550 children in nine areas, including remote villages and places that were destroyed by flooding in May 2014. Jael’s team gave out schoolbags among children in their region and sent donations to other churches for them to distribute farther.
Helping meet practical needs and plant seeds of the Gospel both nurtures and challenges local believer’s faith.
With a 60% unemployment rate in their town, it’s not easy for local believers, who also own very little, to give the backpacks away. But following increased donations from Austria and Switzerland over the last two years, they are catching the vision of spreading this blessing throughout their region and beyond.
“It always brings joy when believers mature and really experience the joy of giving with no strings attached,” Jael said. “I love watching that. That makes it all worth it.”
Church member Marija* came to faith 8 years ago. Marija and her husband were both unemployed and struggled with alcohol abuse. They had moved to town because their village had no school for their son. After moving into an empty one-room flat, the couple approached OM workers for clothing and household items. The OM team provided essential goods and offered to assist cleaning and painting the small room.
“Through all the help, Jesus became real to Marija,” Jael shared.
Marija gave her life to Christ. Subsequently she stopped drinking and during challenging times she has remained steadfast in following Christ. Now Marija, an effective evangelist, makes the most of every opportunity to tell others about Jesus.
“If God can change my life, He can change yours!” Marija declared. “Now I have peace and joy in my heart!”
During the past decade, Jael has seen other individuals come to faith and become strong believers. God’s transforming power is evident in this small church as people turn to Him, deepen their relationship with Him, and learn to live out their faith in practical service.
Grateful for individuals and churches around the world who are sowing generously in Bosnia-Herzegovina through praying and giving, Jael is excited to see God make new life grow.
“I’d like to thank all those who support us,” Jael expressed. “Thank you for your faithfulness and willingness to be part of God blessing Bosnia.”
Please pray that the Church would flourish and that God would call more men to take on leadership roles. Please pray the small congregation in Northwest Bosnia would become more established and able to take ownership of ministries. Please pray that through the gift of schoolbags Jesus would become real to whole families.
Schoolbags for Bosnia is a project run in partnership by OM Bosnia and OM EAST - EurAsia Support Team. For more information or to give towards Schoolbags for Bosnia 2016, please contact your local OM office.