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Reach The Last – The Bosniaks, Jesus in a Melting Pot

13 June 2024

Welcome to Reach the Last, a year-long series in which we at TWR draw focus to some of the world’s least-reached people and discuss how your partnership equips us to be God’s tools to “bring them out of darkness and the shadow of death and burst their bonds apart” (Psalm 104:17).

This month we turn our hearts toward the diverse Southern European nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina; a melting pot of faiths, ethnicities and worldviews. Bosnia, along with other former Yugoslav nations, has a long history of partnership with TWR. In 1974 believers in Yugoslavia were among the first to receive the radio programme Through the Scriptures, hosted by Ferdinand Ferdo Sadak.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, faith and ethnic identity are delicately intertwined. As a result one of the nation’s main people groups, the Bosniaks, are historically solely Islamic having been converted during the Ottoman Empire period. There is very little Gospel-natured material available in the Bosniak language, meaning that this people group is classified as one of the world’s most unreached.

The Nation

For those who minister here, one common word describes their work: complex. Wars and ethnic division have often torn the nation apart, leading to much bloodshed and suffering. A fragile peace exists today, into which TWR seeks to partner with organisations that spread the light of God’s good kingdom and share the Gospel with those who “have not heard.”

The state’s history is immensely rich. Centuries-old people groups, cultures and worldviews all tenuously coexist, leading to a nation that is infinitely interesting, yet volatile and tense. According to the Pew Research Center, the largest religion is Islam, followed by Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. The state constitution recognises religious freedom, although this does not prevent division. Interestingly, however, there are examples of interfaith cooperation, like an International Multi-religious and Intercultural Center (IMIC), which stands in the Jewish quarter in Sarajevo.

Protestant Christianity has been present for roughly 150 years, but the Joshua Project estimates that only 0.07% of the population are currently considered as evangelical. According to Operation World, the evangelical presence has increased but still only represents a miniscule proportion of the population. There is a Baptist seminary in Sarajevo, and an Evangelical Alliance has also been founded. Due to the small number of those reached with the Gospel, Joshua Project ranks the country as low on its progress scale. Neno, a TWR partner through Ikonos ministries, estimates that there are likely not more than 1,000 believers in the nation, calling to mind Jesus’ words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2).

The Partner

“The programme has helped me understand the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam in such a way that I am increasingly interested in exploring the Bible.” – A TWR listener

This social media comment is a small glimpse into the Gospel impact produced by the Ikonos team, TWR’s main partner in Bosnia. They produce Gospel-rich content for people who have likely only been exposed to one worldview for most of their lives.

TWR greatly values its rich and fruitful partnership with Ikonos.

The Ikonos head office is based in Belgrade, Serbia, where the team diligently produces content serving Bosnia and the surrounding Balkan nations. Other Christian organisations that minister to Bosnia include Pioneers, Operation Mobilization and Novi Most International.

Having previously utilised mainly the medium-wave frequency, the ministry has in recent times shifted to an almost entirely digital focus. Christ-centered programmes include:

The Way of Righteousness – An oversight of foundational Christian belief targeting those with an Islamic worldview and available in podcast form and on YouTube. This ministry has dedicated Facebook and Instagram pages.
Thru the Bible – A daily chronological study on a portion of God’s Word. Available on YouTube, and other podcast platforms (Spotify, Google, Apple), it also has dedicated Facebook and Instagram pages.
Treasures of Wisdom – Spirit-led insight into key biblical themes and concepts. Available in podcast form, it has a dedicated webpage (which is undergoing reconstruction).

Neno from Sarajevo serves as the social media outreach coordinator. He faithfully perseveres in a land of tough spiritual soil to oversee production. Amid ethnic tension, resentment over bitter periods of war and economic difficulty, there are numerous challenges in reaching the Bosniaks. The Ikonos team articulate their ministry as sowing seeds. For them, it is not realistic to expect mass conversion or a sudden upswing in church attendance, which can be a sticking point for missionaries, who may fall into the trap of seeking fast results.

Due to the large amount of feedback the team receives through digital media, it is necessary for them to work with third parties to generate thoughtful responses. The digital world is rife with jargon and specific language, which can be difficult to keep up with. The team asks for prayer in this area, that God would guide them in effective engagement.

Over the years, Neno and the team have developed a patient, perseverant approach to sharing the Gospel. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbour, no matter their ethnicity or background. Amid a hotbed of ethnic tension, Neno and Ikonos endeavor to put Jesus’ words into practice and share a Gospel that does not discriminate and seeks only to save.

The Challenge

The Bosniaks have worldviews that have developed over generations. To turn aside from these to embrace the Gospel brings the risk of estrangement from family and society. This problem is amplified when considering the tension between ethnicities. While the Bosniaks associate with Islam, the nation’s other main groups, Croats and Serbs, are more often nominally Christian. Therefore the Bosniaks associate Christianity with a historically antagonistic people group.

Ethnic tension, overtones of war and a general lack of trust are obstacles for evangelism and clearly demonstrate why faithful perseverance is required. The Ikonos team, and Neno specifically, are not discouraged. They understand and identify with the complexity of the nation and feel uniquely equipped to reach those around them. Despite the difficulties, they continue to see feedback and comments on their posts and broadcasts. These include insightful spiritual questions, with which they are happy to engage.

Let us pray for the day that the Bosniaks recognise the supremacy of Jesus, joining in with one listener on social media who writes, “Thank God and thank you for these words. They are wonderful and enlightening for the entire world.”

Let us pray for the day that, in the backdrop of a complex society, the Bosniaks will proclaim and recognise Jesus’ words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).