July 23, 2015

Six-Flag Unity in San Antonio

, communication director, British Union Conference

On the day that Serbia's prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, was chased away by stone-throwing protesters at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a rich mix of 65,000 Seventh-day Adventists representing almost every culture on the planet found themselves in joint, heart-felt worship at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Very moving for two of the worshipers was the sight of a joint banner, the six flags of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia, stitched together and prominently draped over the fifth-floor balcony to the right of the stage. It was a poignant symbol of forgiveness and unity in the context of a service that focused on the hope that Seventh-day Adventists have in a Savior who can and does change lives.

Dejan Stojkovic is Serbian. He now lives in Britain where he works in teen ministry. When just a teen himself, he escaped military service in the war that split Yugoslavia, fleeing across the border in a hearse on its way to a funeral. The break-up of his country was painful to him and his family. His father had worked as a pastor whose ministry crossed cultural and ethnic boundaries.

That pain became bittersweet when he met the young woman who now sits by his side. Deana comes from what, geographically and politically, is the other side of the fence. She is from Croatia but ended up without passport or nationality — so today the passport she travels on is Bosnian.

She also works for the church within the communication department of the Trans-European Division’s office in St. Albans, England, and has discovered that love has no barriers. Dejan and Deana have now been married for five years. They don't mind which flag is flying; for them the flag to fly most high is the one for Jesus.

Dejan Stojkovic and his wife, Deana, attend the General Conference session in San Antonio. (BUC)

To see the six-flag banner hanging above the 65,000 Adventists was, for them, a meaningful emphasis of what it means to be part of a global church family, representatives of 168 countries meeting in worship, and singing together “Lift up the trumpet and loud let it ring, Jesus is coming again.”

Up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys died at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces amid the break-up of Yugoslavia. Serbia had backed the Bosnian Serbs. On Saturday, 11 July, Prime Minister Volvic had been attempting a gesture of peace, apology, and reconciliation in joining with other world leaders at a ceremony in Bosnia-Herzegovina to pay respects at the Srebrenica graveyard where more than 100 newly found remains were to be buried with 6,000 other massacre victims. However, he became a target of abuse, the hissing crowd hurling rocks and bottles at him.

“I regret that some people haven't recognized my sincere intention to build friendship between Serbian and Bosniak people,” he said later. “I still give my hand to the Bosniak people. I will continue with that … and always be ready to work together to overcome problems.”

It is a sad story that clearly is not yet complete. It also is not unique but has been repeated in multitudes of ways in countries around the world. Rwanda saw its own genocide — and yet has also seen amazing stories of reconciliation and healing. In South Africa, once divided communities have come together.

Even at the General Conference session meetings, people have sometimes strongly expressed very different points of view. However, on Saturday, despite such differences, they were able to sit and worship together under the same united flag. As world church leader Ted N.C. Wilson said in his sermon, “Don't get stuck on one side or the other of the road — keep in the middle of God's Word.”

Evidence of this was seen both in the morning and the afternoon program. Church members thrilled to see the way God was drawing communities together, be it health ministry in Jakarta, major evangelism in Zimbabwe, or one committed woman in an un-entered part of China who has planted 10 churches.

For Dejan and Deana, holding hands in a dome filled with Adventist members from so many different cultures and background, this is a little picture of the future.

“The book of Revelation paints a wonderful picture of heaven,” Dejan said. Referring to Revelation 7:9 (NIV), he added: “It describes ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’ United in Christ, today was just a tiny glimpse of heaven.”