If I Had Grown Up Here…Reflections from Bosnia on New Zealand

“If I had grown up here, I would be of the Muslim faith.”

Hearing of the Mosque bombings in New Zealand, I went back to my notes to make sure it was written as I had remembered.

If I had grown up here, I would be of the Muslim faith.” 

Bosnia

It was. Twelve years later, I remembered it word for word. I was with a group of seminarians as part of a Week of Compassion delegation to Bosnia. We were there to visit partners and better understand the challenges of rebuilding after the atrocities of the war in the Balkans. We were meeting with a group of residents and local leaders, reflecting on the horrors that had occurred, including the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. They were killed, in part, because of their Muslim faith. Orthodox Serbian armies killed these people as part of ethnic cleansing. The army, identified as Christian, taking the lives of those who did not.

“If had grown up here, I would be of the Muslim faith.”

We witnessed the ways of the Bosnian Muslims. Their kindness, their hospitality, the ethics of love, peace, and justice. They had incredible faith in the midst of a horrible tragedy. I mean, how could we feel any other way? Their faith embodied everything one was seeking from faith. Their way was the way that we were seeking to live.

Ah yes, the way. The way quoted by Jesus in John 14, “the way, the truth, and the life.” A verse meant for liberation which has instead been used to hold captive. A verse meant to unlock doors instead used as a closed gate.

The way made visible by Jesus was clearly identified by us in those Bosnian Muslims. I’ve never been captivated by Jesus’ words in John 14 as a confession, but rather as an invitation to a particular way of being in the world. I’ve also never understood other’s angst at those who practice other faith traditions. We should save out righteous outrage for those who practice the ethics of their faith so poorly.

I know in New Zealand, Srebrenica, and countless other places, God’s heart was the first to break. I know because anytime God’s children are harmed, God’s heart breaks. I know we are God’s children because God’s way is bigger than you or I can imagine or perhaps even dream it to be.

As my Christian sisters and brothers have prayed for and grieved with our Muslim brothers and sisters, I’ve reflected on the words I wrote twelve years ago. Perhaps, in our most vulnerable moments, we realize the way is bigger that any of us can imagine.

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