A person can learn a lot from neighbors. This rings true for Messiah Church’s Executive Pastor Tami Luckhardt. This past year she connected with a neighbor and learned about his experience as a past employee of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), following the war in Bosnia.
It has been over 19 years since Ed Sacic has spoken of his first-hand experience with UMCOR. Ed saw the reality of the devastation and pain a country at war can cause. Memories that have been silent for so long foretell the tragic events that destroyed cities, divided nations and threatened thousands of innocent people.
Upon Ed and Tami’s first encounter at a neighborhood Halloween event, Tami mentioned she worked for a community Methodist Church. The words ‘Methodist Church’ led Ed to ask Tami if she was familiar with UMCOR. He went on to share his experience with the faith-based organization that came into Bosnia in 1996 to help rebuild the fallen cities and country. Ed’s story illustrates the impact of UMCOR in helping those in need and rebuilding faith in the world.
Living Through a War
Ed, his wife, and young daughter faced a horrific life as war broke out in their home country of Bosnia in 1992. Ed’s wife was able to flee to safety in 1993, but Ed would enter into a concentration camp, along with thousands of others, as the war escalated. Ed, along with many other men, had to build trenches each day in unbearable conditions, fearing for their lives as many were killed without warning. Ed was in the camp for over seven months before his release would finally come.
Free of the concentration camp, the living situation was still dire. The city he once knew and worked in was unrecognizable as factories, buildings and the government were left in shambles. Ed searched for work and heard of an organization that was seeking employees to help rebuild homes. As Bosnia experienced civil strife, UMCOR was there to help affected communities rebuild homes and lives. Ed was able to be a part of giving hope to his fallen country.
“UMCOR was well known to many in the area following the war and I was thankful to get a job with them,” said Ed. “I was able to see how UMCOR was helping people and that the resources (money) were well-spent to help get people back on their feet.”
The country was still in turmoil, with many neighboring areas still under hostile conditions. Every day Ed and other UMCOR employees would travel through often dangerous areas to get supplies to building sites or homes. The local military would serve as an escort, with Ed and the UMCOR team strategically planning the time of day and route to get supplies to the areas in need. As the internal fighting for power continued, Ed crossed into areas he had once walked as a prisoner, now hostile territory, to help those in need through UMCOR.
“With the war ending, it was still a turbulent time and so much was lost,” said Ed. “I appreciate that UMCOR came to my country and helped so many people, even with the unsafe conditions we faced. UMCOR saw that the need to help others outweighed the potential danger.”
The Bosnian Genocide
In April 1992, the government of the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Over the next several years, Bosnian Serb forces, with the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, targeted both Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian civilians for atrocious crimes resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people by 1995. It was the worst act of genocide since the Nazi regime’s destruction of 6 million European Jews during World War II.
During the two years with UMCOR, he estimates he delivered supplies to at least 1,000 homes. In total, UMCOR staff designed and managed 140 different programs, benefiting both individuals and communities. An estimated 100,000 people within Bosnia benefited from those programs.
As the country continued to rebuild itself, Ed and his wife decided it might be best to start fresh in a new place. With a young family (now with two young daughters), they feared their home country was not the ideal location.
America portrayed a new start for the Sacic family. They were drawn to the Minneapolis region where the large city offered greater opportunities, and the four seasons reminded them of their home country.
They moved in 1998, and Ed was eager to find work. He did not speak English at the time, and reached out to the UMCOR offices to see if they might have any job opportunities for him. Ed utilized translators to inquire about jobs, but unfortunately UMCOR was unable to help him find employment due to the language barrier. UMCOR did however, provide him with a one-time check for $600. They recognized his time as a prisoner within the war, and helped offset his family’s expenses in getting established in Minnesota. Ed went on to learn English and has been blessed with many career opportunities since coming to Minneapolis.
Ed is proud to say he has been a part of UMCOR. “The work of UMCOR makes an impact and it matters to people. They provided light in a very dark time to help innocent people regain their lives and help build communities and cities again.”
An Opportunity at Messiah Church
When Tami mentioned that Messiah Church was taking part in a packing party in January, assembling health kits for UMCOR, Ed readily agreed to attend. Although it had been almost 20 years since assisting the same organization, Ed felt it was an opportunity he needed to be a part of.
“Every action makes a difference, big or small. I was so excited to come to the packing party Tami invited me to. It was an opportunity to give back to UMCOR, help others again, and give thanks for the job I had so many years ago,” said Ed.
“Love thy neighbor” as Jesus said, brought together two neighbors able to share and learn from experiences and the impact of helping others, both locally and around the world.