The following was written by Fr Marc in September, 2005, after the second of two Study Trips he participated in with International Orthodox Christian Charities. Both trips gave us a glimpse into the devastation that took place during the Balkan conflict in the early-mid 1990’s, and presented us with an opportunity to visit with those who live in a constant spirit of gratitude, in view of IOCC’s presence and assistance. Given those in the United States celebrate the great feast of Thanksgiving this week, and that November 24, 2013, was the IOCC Sunday, this article is being shared in the spirit of giving thanks.
Gratitude lies at the heart of the Biblical faith. The entire gospel message is rooted in God’s love and grace towards mankind. Still yet, gratitude has always been the most difficult of all human emotions to express. No one word can adequately convey the appreciation a person feels. Nothing reveals the totality of our faith more than gratitude, the ability and need to give thanks. So until we reach a world (the Kingdom of God) where words can more adequately be expressed, then a warm and lasting embrace, a firm handshake into a hand calloused by decades of manual labor, and a look deep into the furthest reaches of one’s heart, then thank you will have to do.
The second IOCC Study Trip to Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina in early September, allowed us the opportunity to see how deep appreciation is expressed by actions which words will never, ever, be able to express. Expressing this gratitude provides us courage and joy in being alive. As our heart is, St Theophan the Recluse said, so are our words; as our heart is, so are our actions.
In speaking with us in the solitude of a cinder block garage he and his son had built, one IOCC beneficiary quietly asked, “How many people here owe their very post-war existence to what IOCC has done?” Far too many to know, he said, answering his own question.
Ten years after the end of the Bosnian Civil War (1992-1995), this breath-taking beautiful land somehow survives. Rebuilding civil society programs, establishing NGO’s and agricultural cooperatives are all extraordinarily important, yet it remains the unspoken word by hard-working people who are trying to piece their lives together one day at a time, that has its most far-reaching personal impact. What type of assistance IOCC extends pales in comparison to the hope it provides, to people, to families, to villages and to entire municipalities.
Each person is created for life and intimate communion with God. It is the reason we exist. God gives us each moment, and yet we choose to do with these moments, says everything about us. The moments of time which God extends to the Balkan people, at this time of reconstruction and IOCC’s redevelopment assistance, is inspiring beyond words.
To even begin to understand, and certainly to fully appreciate the depth of IOCC’s life-saving work – and it cannot be seen as anything less than the ability to save lives – then a person must participate in an IOCC Study Trip. To be on the ground with beneficiaries, with passionate IOCC staff, with young children and elderly grandparents whose faces still bear the visual scars of war, conveys a hope and a love than must be experienced and felt.
There is simply no more powerful way to convey human emotions, then by a warm and lasting embrace, from anybody for that matter, but must especially from an IOCC beneficiary.
In the final analysis, we have all become kinder and better disposed to love because of this experience, this encounter with God, so warmly revealed to us by the Balkan people.
Click: International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to be directed to their website