Gabi, a lively lady with a smile that immediately put me at ease, came into my life about a month after I moved to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I met her while attempting to learn more about my neighborhood gym. While she rode the stationary bike, she translated the details of a gym membership. We quickly became friends and eventually roommates.
words + photographs JAYME ROGERS
Gabi’s story impacted me greatly. It was the first time I realized how devastating and long-lasting war can be on a family. Gabi is just 17 days older than me, which means we were both in high school when the war started. Thirty years ago in April 1992, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina began. The conflict involved three different ethnic groups, and the effects of this war continue to linger to this day. Gabi’s family lived in a house in Sarajevo where Croatians were a minority, and the situation quickly became more hostile for their family. Not only did they have to worry about running across their backyard to the bomb shelter when the siren sounded, but also persecution that came from the Bosnians in the city.
Eventually, they made the risky decision to leave both their home and their belongings during the night and travel over the mountains in hopes of making it to the southern part of the country where Croatians were a majority. During this escape, her dad and brother rode in the back of a truck, while Gabi and her mom laid their bodies over her two younger sisters in the backseat of a car to protect them from gun fire. Absolutely horrifying! When I heard Gabi’s story, I realized while I was in high school worrying if I would have a date for the school dance or if I would make Jazz Band, Gabi and her family were fighting for their lives.
I spent many days with this wonderful family in the house they built from scratch. Over dinners and long weekends in the village, I listened to stories. They lost a lot during the war — their home, the innocence of childhood, their mother for a time as she worked in Germany to provide for the family, the sense of security, and family and friends. Day after day, I prayed for Gabi’s family and thanked Him for protecting their lives. I also witnessed their love for others. They focused on the positive and on helping others despite the unresolved issues they had with their house back in Sarajevo. I saw God’s love expressed to them through both physical and relational provisions.
I had the opportunity to live in Mostar from 1999-2001, a city divided into two parts. The “Stari Most” was a bridge destroyed in the war making a visible division between the Croatian and Bosnian parts of the city. Many people would not cross from one side of the city to the other due to the cultural divide from the war. This destroyed bridge was a symbol to me of brokenness that needed to be repaired. I have a painting of the bridge in my bedroom that serves as a daily reminder of the friendships I hold dear from this beautiful country.
With our fast-paced lifestyle and the internet, we often forget about people still working through the consequences of situations that were out of their control. Though the world has moved on to other more “urgent” situations, one can still see the remains of devastation of bombed out buildings, broken families, and much cultural tension. I am comforted by the fact that even though we may forget, God never does, and He loves these people. I am thankful He continues to work through the trauma Gabi, her family, and thousands of others suffered from all three ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
When I revisited Mostar in 2013, I walked across the reconstructed “Stari Most” and remember thinking, “Thank you, God, for bringing hope in impossible circumstances. You see each and every person in this city and country. Continue to rebuild lives.” JR
Jayme Rogers lives with her cats, Sammy and KC, in southern Spain. She enjoys reading, watching sunrises and sunsets, hiking, and spending time with friends.
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