In the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Artur stood in line, waiting, as the Serb police made everyone face the wall with their hands in the air, while machine guns went off. It had been just another day in Kosovo as Artur gathered with fellow believers to pray at the church. But the Serbs did not want them to pray. Suddenly Serbian police rushed in screaming, and dragged Artur, his friend and others, placing them in a line to be shot and killed.
Artur was next in line.
I sat motionless, with every other Ten2 participant, as we listened to Pastor Artur speak in a resort in the beautiful Šar mountains. He gave us the entire history of Kosova, explaining how history and darkness built up to that fateful moment agains the wall with his life flashing before his eyes. Every eye was on Artur as he explained the rich and heavy history of the Balkans, and the control Kosova has been under since the Roman empire.
From being under the Ottoman Turks to being under Communist Yugoslavia, Kosova barely hung on for freedom. But through it all, there have been moments in between where the light has shone through the darkness. While today Kosovo is 87% Muslim, there is a rich history of Christian movements in this country.
The Apostle Paul visited Kosova, once called Illyricum (Romans 15:19). In 1886 the American board of missions brought the alphabet and education to Kosovars. Evangelist Billy Graham was allowed to come in 1978 for a crusade. David Neighbor came in 1980 and began a Church where people could once again worship Jesus Christ.
But when Slobodan Milošević rose to power in 1990, everything changed.
Many listened to him. Serbians bought into his message that if they could not conquer Albanians in their lifetime, they would not be blessed with children born.
Soon, ethnic cleansing began in the streets and villages. President Bill Clinton told Milošević to stop. But bodies still filled the streets and the trenches.
Where was God? Why all of this bloodshed in Kosova, simply for wanting to be its own country? How could God be here, seeing all of this, and allowing it to continue? When would it all end?
But as he stood before the machine guns, Artur knew that the Lord was with him. He felt an unexplainable presence and assurance with him, even in this bleakest of hours. He knew the Lord was there. The Serb officer moved to him next. Everyone remained frozen in fear.
All except for Artur, who with the Lord’s help, spoke directly to his killer.
“Why are we not allowed to gather?” Artur asked. The Serb stood there, shocked by Artur’s ability to speak in this moment. “Now is a time to pray, and we want to be able to pray” Artur said.
The Serb responded, “I decide who lives and who dies! You cannot pray here!” They continued back and forth,
But after a while, when the Serb saw Artur’s courage, he let him go.
Artur spent the remainder of the war barely eating or sleeping, hiding in a dark room with nothing but a candle and his books. He often clung to the Psalms throughout the duration of the 1999 war. He even got kicked out of his home at one point, so that a Serb could live in it.
His life is a story full of survival and courage. Being one of very few Christians in Kosova, Artur willingly stayed behind in Prishtinë when many other Albanians made a massive exodus out of the country. “I’ve done nothing wrong. This is my country. I want to stay,” Artur remembers thinking. When I asked him the reason why he thinks he survived, Artur said “So that I could continue to tell people about God’s faithfulness.”
Artur stayed in the middle of a war, storing food and supplies for people in a baptismal, and serving the persecuted Christians. Being faithful to the Lord, even when he was alone and treated so wrongly simply for being Albanian. He could’ve left Kosova. But he chose to stay and even face death. What is one area God is asking you to have courage in? Let’s take courage, and let’s be faithful!
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
1 Peter 4:12-13
– Roma Osborne, Ten2 2021 Participant & Storyteller