An Extensive Presence

IT WAS A WONDERFUL sunny Sunday morning in June 1996. In high spirits our group left the Franciscan monastery at Rama, in central Bosnia, to drive to the small mountain village of Podhum. In the afternoon, Father Ivo, our host, drove us higher into the mountains to visit the site of the original village church, which had been built over 20 years by people who carried each piece of material up the mountainside.

They were delighted to complete the building in 1991, only to have it destroyed two years later. We were warned not to stray anywhere off the path, as the whole property was heavily mined. We stood in the shell of the once-beautiful building and observed a bullet hole by the head of Jesus in the mural behind the altar.

Father Ivo took us into the parish house. It, too, was entirely destroyed. In the former library, books and scores for music lay crumpled on the floor, having been ground underfoot. We were about to pass on when one of our group saw, almost hidden, a book, with a familiar author-Henri Nouwen.

Henri's work in the village of Podhum, miles from any significant road, in central Bosnia, at the site of a desecrated church! The title of the book was Jesus: Sense of My Life, which wasn't familiar to us. With the permission of our hosts, we brought the book home to share with Henri.

Henri was very moved to hear this story, receive the book, and see photographs of the place where it had been found. It turned out that the book was a translation of Letters to Marc About Jesus. Henri didn't know it had been translated into Croatian.

He called me early in the morning the day after he received my letter, in which I had raised with him the possibility of his visiting Bosnia. Henri told me that he had a Dutch friend who does work in Bosnia, who had suggested that he visit the country. Henri said that this new nudge might cause him to reconsider the possibility of going there.

Though never able to make the trip, Henri's presence in Bosnia was evident to those of us privileged to worship with the community in Podhum. Finding his book in Podhum showed just how extensively Henri touches people through his faithfulness and the fruitfulness of his writing.


DIANA L. CHAMBERS is director of the Servant Leadership School in Washington, D.C. She visited Bosnia in June 1996 with a group sponsored by the Ministry of Money.

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