Feeding murderers

written by OM International

In January 2014, OM delivered food to a family in a blood feud in the Dukagjini Region of Kosovo. A blood feud occurs when someone is murdered, and the relatives of the deceased try to avenge the death by killing the murderer or someone in his family. Due to an ancient Albanian law, the “Canon of Dukagjini”, which condones the use of blood feuds to resolve disputes, blood feuds are common in Northern Albania and Kosovo. They are detrimental to the families involved because they cause families to live in constant fear and isolation. In the following story, OMer Elaine* shares her experience delivering food packages to this family.

Our car couldn’t make it up the muddy hill to their house, but as we started walking the rest of the way, a woman in her mid-40s came out to greet us. She apologised that her husband could not come out because they were in gjak – literally translated, in “blood”. We looked up at the door of the house, and it was filled with the frame of a tall boy. She called him out to help unload the food from the trunk of the car. When he emerged, he seemed big like an athlete, bigger than normal Albanian youth. He carried the large bag of flour from the trunk and kept his head down. My Albanian OM teammate Ardita* remarked at how fast he moved from the house to the car; he was afraid to linger outside. Was it really possible that someone could be lurking behind the trees to kill him?

The father met us at the door with the usual Albanian ease of friendliness and hospitality. We went in but declined their offers of coffee and stayed just to talk a little. Fitore*, the social worker, who was already working with their case, explained who we were and our organisation. OM team member Angela* explained that the gift of food was from God and not us. She said, as we always do, that she wanted them to remember that God had not forgotten their family. They were so thankful, and I heard them say Zoti, meaning “Lord”, many times. I did not understand all of their responses, but I could tell they were saying words of blessing to us out of thankfulness.

They explained that their oldest son was in prison. Their younger son was just 16 years old, and while he should have been in prison too, the police could not keep him there because he was too young. There was an atmosphere of fear in the house, but not panic: It was more like a sense of defeat. They were trying to make the best of it, but the fact was, it was a bad situation. And when would it end? Maybe never. They had become prisoners in their own home.

After the visit, the woman accompanied us to our car, as is the tradition in Kosovo. She pulled us close as we kissed goodbye and urged us to visit again. I wondered: When was the last time she’d had a visitor? Who now could provide for the family, since only she could go out? Had they even been able to see their son in prison? What had he done to get himself there?

Up on their hill, the houses were hooded with tall evergreen trees, as you do not often see in the city. There could have been peace there. But it was like we’d entered a completely different world, where a grown man could not even safely walk out into the yard of his house. 

Over dinner that night, Ardita explained the parts of the story Angela and I had not understood in Albanian. Five months before, the sons had killed the husband of one of their close relatives, which had started the blood feud. The young boy who was afraid to lift his eyes had helped killed someone. Now he and his family must forever pay the consequences.

“God really protected us,” Ardita later said. “We were four women, and some would say we were stupid to be there, but we did it with faith. It was such a hard situation for the family, and you could see they were so thankful we came. Really, I was so touched by that visit.”

We had fed murderers, but they needed food. It wasn’t enough food to last forever, but enough for the rest of the winter. Who knew what they would do after that food ran out?

Perhaps we were a miracle that January day, to remind them that God had not forgotten them. If God could use us to provide for them that day, then one day He can provide an even greater miracle as well, of reconciliation for their family.

Pray for families across Kosovo and Albania who are living with the daily consequences of blood feuds: economic hardships as well as estrangement from society.

Pray that God would provide for their needs and guide them towards reconciliation, with others and with Himself.

*Name changed

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