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Firewood ministry opens further doors
Mark Kelly, Baptist Press
July 31, 2008

Firewood ministry opens further doors

Firewood ministry opens further doors
Mark Kelly, Baptist Press
July 31, 2008

BGR photo

Poor families in one of southeastern Europe’s Balkan countries received help from Southern Baptists when a utility company shut off electricity this past winter, leaving them without heat.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When a local utility company in one of

southeastern Europe’s Balkan countries shut off electricity to poor

neighborhoods this past winter, Southern Baptists stepped in to help.

And when those same families had trouble finding food this spring,

community leaders knew where to turn.

“The

situation this past winter was desperate,” said Edward Vaughan*, a

Southern Baptist field partner in the area. “Members of the minority

group here are severely below the poverty line. Unemployment is very

high and families have very little by way of finances.

“When

many families couldn’t pay their utility bills, the local electric

company shut off their power for much of the day,” he added. “With the

high temperatures in the low 40s and lows in the 20s — and little or

no heat in the home — children were coming to school with frostbite

issues. The head of a local school asked if we could help.”

An

emergency request for $22,220 in relief funds was sent out to purchase

firewood for about 100 families to make it through the last 10 weeks of

winter. Families who received the assistance worked together as a

community to cut, stack and deliver the wood.

At the time,

Vaughan asked Southern Baptists to pray that the outreach would

establish trusting relationships with local officials and that people

would see that Southern Baptists care about them physically and

spiritually.

The region is one where gestures of kindness are

too few and far between, said Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in

Europe and the Middle East for Baptist Global Response (BGR), a Southern

Baptist international relief and development organization.

Throughout

the 1990s, news reports in the United States were filled with stories

of war in the Balkans. Even today, the capture of fugitive Bosnian Serb

leader Radovan Karadzic is a reminder of the chaos that engulfed the

region when Yugoslavia collapsed. A decade later, Americans still

remember the role their own soldiers played in stabilizing Bosnia and

Herzegovina.

The ethnic and religious tensions that fueled the

fighting still simmer beneath the surface. In minority communities,

people have little education and few opportunities to work. Providing

for a family can be very difficult.

Because Southern Baptists

had helped with the heating crisis during the winter, community leaders

knew where to turn when hunger problems became acute this spring.

An

allocation of $24,913.68 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is

purchasing enough food to carry 70 families through four months,

providing staple items like flour, beans, sugar and rice, as well as

eggs, milk soup and cheese. An estimated 500 people will benefit from

the project.

Reaching out to this minority people right now is crucial, Shepherd said.

“The

Balkans have become the pit of pain and suffering for a lot of minority

groups since the war,” Shepherd said. “It has become the breeding

ground for a lot of ungodly elements. Organized crime, gangs, drug

trafficking, smuggling and human trafficking have all increased. Areas

of high unemployment and poverty provide the best breeding grounds for

such elements to thrive. Different groups are recruiting for their own

ideological agendas, whether religious or political.”

Contributions

to the World Hunger Fund go a long way in the Balkans, Shepherd noted.

“For what many families in North America spend on one outing at a

restaurant, we can feed one family for an entire month,” he said.

We

can make a real difference in people’s lives by feeding families and

providing heat for their homes,” he added. “And we are able to do just

that with these families because Southern Baptists care about people in

need — because of God’s love for us in our need.”

Visit BGR at www.gobgr.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — *Name

changed for security reasons. Kelly is an assistant editor with

BP.)