September 8, 1999

kos_mound THE MOUND in the background marks the mass grave of 66 residents of Lybeniq, a village near Pec. Serbian soldiers entered the village last April 1, told the inhabitants they had only a few minutes to gather their things and to meet in the road to leave Kosovo. Instead, they were herded into a courtyard and shot, their bodies piled and burned. (Photos by Bill Bangham)
Repairing the scars

Baptists bring healing to a grieving land
___By Bill Bangham
___SBC International Mission Board
___PRISTINA, Kosovo (BP)-- The hillside is a clutter of homes and patchwork yards. Below, the city Pristina simmers in summer heat. A yearling bull stands in one small yard. It is a healthy animal. Skin taut, stretched smooth across a muscled frame. The carcasses of cattle--killed and left in the fields to rot by passing Serbian troops--add to the mystery of how this one survived.
___This one will feed a family.
___The end comes with a deft stroke. Delivered fast. Deep. Rendered with a sharpened scythe, one end wrapped in a rag to protect hands bent on leverage.
___From a street below, a rifle shot sends the "sora," the ubiquitous blackbirds of Kosovo, swirling into the air. The bull's eyes cloud as it sinks to its knees and topples on its side.
___It is not an easy death. The lungs heave, gasping for air, and the limbs flail long after
VJOLLCA DEMALIJAY (left) and Sherine Hoxha (center) are colleagues and neighbors. Both teach English. The night Serb troops entered their community to force them from their homes, Vjellca's husband ran out the back door and escaped over a wall. He later joined her in Montenegro. Sherine's husband went out the front door and was killed.
the head is separated from the body. Blood soaks the soil.
___Anvar's words come in a whisper chill on a sweat-soaked day: "I have seen men slaughtered this way."
___Kosovo--or Kosova, as its ethnic Albanian population intones it--is soaked in blood. Death notices are posted daily along the streets--on walls, on telephone poles--sometimes singly, sometimes ganged together on one sheet.
___In the village of Leybeniq, outside Pec, 66 people were massacred. They were told to gather their things, that they had three minutes to leave, to begin the passage over the mountains into exile. Instead, they were herded into a courtyard and executed, their bodies piled up and burned.
___Among them was a young woman eight months pregnant.
___These may not be all the victims here. Not all the homes and communities in the surrounding woods and nearby mountains have been checked. Not all the refugees have returned. Three hundred fifty are known still to be missing. Hope for them diminishes with each passing day.
___In Pec, while Fitore Gjuka and her children fled into the mountains, her husband slipped back into their house for a few things and saw two elderly neighbors set on fire and burned to death.
___Assad Goga and his family also fled that night. As he talks, his teenage daughter, Pilar,
TEXAS VOLUNTEER Greg Morris (center) from First Baptist Church in Marble Falls, IMB missionary Fred Dallas (foreground), and Esad Murati (behind Morris), a Kosovar Albanian, unload the first load of relief supplies at a warehouse in Pec, Kosovo. It is one of three warehouses the International Mission Board has established to assist refugees returning home after the war. Food, clothing and blankets already are being distributed from these centers.
translates. When he tells of his wife's death, Pilar's mouth sets. She draws in. Her eyes take on a faraway cast. He waits for her to go on, but she can't. Assad turns, holds his fists before him and makes the sound of a machine gun.
___Vjollca Demalijay escaped into Montenegro after hiding for days in a Gypsy community. Her husband survived by scaling the wall behind their home while 13 other men, neighbors in the immediate community, died out front.
___"He just turned the right way," she says with a sense of guilt. Her life seems too easy, so lucky, she says, when compared with that of her friend Sherine Hoxha. Her husband was one of the 13. He died while her mother-in-law watched.
___"With his death, they took everything from me," she says.
___The pain is deep. Everyone has a story. Of children and old folks lost on the long trek over the mountains through the oceans of thigh-deep snow. Of neighbors lost in the streets. Of some who have simply disappeared. It is enough to flee forever.
___Yet they return. In sorrow. With memories and images no man nor woman nor child should carry. To gather together. To pick up their shattered lives. To rebuild amid the ruin of their homes and communities.
___For the 850,000 refugees returning after fleeing the excesses of Slobodan Milosevic's regime, not all concerns are in the past. ?
___Sixty percent of the housing in Kosovo is destroyed. The scorched remains of their houses contain little but ash. Winter comes quickly. September turns cool. The first snows of winter arrive in late October, early November. There is a need for roofs and windows. And blankets.
AS GRAVES are found and bodies are identified, death notices are posted on telephone poles, walls and shop windows. Passers-by stop to see who they know. It is a constant reminder of what they have been through.
___Yet each day there is change. Signs of the villages and communities coming to life can be seen in the streets. In the faces of those who return. In the debris that is shoveled and carted away. In the smell of new wood replacing the odor of ash.
___And each day there is new sorrow. In retributions marked by columns of smoke rising above villages and towns, Serb homes burnt so they, too, will have nothing to return to, if ever they try. In terrorizing Serbs who did not leave, mostly elderly and country people.
___And in fresh killings in the dark of the night.
___Kosovo is a land in desperate need of hope and healing, commodities that seem so far away.

Help Kosovars this winter
___Texas Baptists are parti-cipating in a drive to send new blankets to help Kosovo's returned refugees survive the harsh winter ahead.
___Blankets will be purchased in bulk for $3 apiece. Contributions to this project may be sent to "Blankets for Kosovo," Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington, Dallas 75246-1798.
___Volunteers also are sought to help with construction and food distribution missions in Kosovo this fall. To volunteer, call Texas Baptist Men at (214) 828-5353.


Contents/ Masthead / Why We're Here / Links / Archive / E-mail us/ SUBSCRIBE!