Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Living, Learning and Loving

This has been a very interesting couple of weeks here in Bosnia. As we go about living our lives here while on the mission, there have been many valuable lessons we have learned and people we have grown to love. We have done a lot of traveling again and as we travel the country, we are trying to enjoy what it has to offer in its beautiful countrysides, interesting history and loving people. 

On our recent trip to Banja Luka to meet with the Red Cross and attend Zone Conference we stopped by a quaint town called Jajce. Jajce, in the central region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a historic city all about falling water.  As described by An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders  "Famous for its enormous waterfall in the middle of town, the meeting of two rivers – the Pliva and the Vrbas – the region was established in the 14th century as the capital of the then Kingdom of Bosnia.  There’s a town castle, old fortified city walls, high mountains and deep river valleys. And just downstream, in the area of the Pliva Lakes, is a collection of about 20 little huts that once served as watermills for local farmers to grind wheat into flour. The little windowless huts sit on top of skinny stilts right over the gushing water. Since the flow here is spread out, by using a series of little mills instead of one big water wheel, the diffuse water power could be aggregated. Pretty ingenious. Most of the huts go back to the period of the Austro-Hungary (about 1867 to 1918), and they give the impression of a little storybook village." It truly does look like a place where you would expect to see trolls, dragons and fairies. Snow and ice formations created a surreal visual experience and we were captivated by the magnificent scene. I was just a little obsessed with the ice formations! 

I love the lacy edge where the ice and water meet.

close up of ice crystals on a rock in the river
The water wheel under the hut that powered the mill.

This was under one of the mills.

Our meeting with the Red Cross resulted in an Emergency Response project to provide staples of food and hygiene kits to 190 people who live in the very rural mountain areas of northern Bosnia, where they have nearly 3 feet of snow in some areas. Many of these people are poor and/or elderly and do not have the means to travel in deep snow nor do they have families that can help them, making the winter months very difficult for them. Some supplies have already been delivered and Denny and I will be assisting the Red Cross with more deliveries tomorrow. We look forward to helping with the deliveries and meeting those we will be able to offer assistance to. 

We had visitors from the US this past week. The Bennett's are the LDS Charities Technical Specialist for the Maternal and Newborn Care (MNC) initiative in Bosnia. Through the MNC project, professionals who work directly with mothers and newborns, including doctors, nurses and midwives, are being trained in newborn resuscitation. Many newborn care professionals in the country are under-educated in the actions needed when a newborn is not breathing. This program was initiated in Bosnia several years ago and has proven to be very successful, reducing the infant mortality rate by nearly half and has also significantly reduced disabilities related to lack of oxygen at birth since its implementation. They have a great medical team they work in cooperation with to translate the teaching materials and provide ongoing training to the professionals throughout the county.  It is truly amazing what can happen when people work together to improve the lives of others. 

As most people know, we have a personal interest in serving people with disabilities. While the Bennetts were here, we accompanied them to a meeting with Unicef. During the course of the meeting I was invited to attend a conference they were hosting to discuss the findings of a recent study Unicef had conducted on the situation of children with disabilities in Bosnia. Again, a huge learning experience! While I am fully aware of the dysfunctional situation in the country for children with disabilities, I was surprised (although I probably shouldn't have been) to learn that the country officials had signed and agreed to follow the policies established in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The issue is not that the policies do not exist, they are just not implemented and many parents and persons with disabilities are not aware of their rights. If they are aware, there is such a disconnect in the system that they do not know who to turn to for help. There are many organizations working to improve the situation, but the findings of the study show that these organizations are not working together, creating a unified appeal or single voice. There are many fractions fighting the same cause, but because of the lack of unity, their voices are not heard. Unicef also feels that because there have been many NGOs that have come in and started programs and supported children with disabilities, the government doesn't feel the need to assist. However, when these projects supported by NGOs run out of funding, instead of the government stepping in and taking over as they should, the programs just cease. 

There were many extremely passionate people in the meeting that shared their experiences, opinions and possible solutions to this overwhelming problem. While Unicef conducted the study and hosted the conference to discuss the findings, they feel strongly that the many advocacy groups need to unite and without a unified front it will be nearly impossible for them to be heard, to make the necessary changes and to make a real difference in the lives of those with disabilities. It was very interesting and I was able to get more contacts that we will meet with as we continue to look for worthwhile projects this year. 
On the left is Adisa, who is the founder of Mala Sirena who we
are currently doing a project with. She is an outstanding
advocate for the inclusion of children with disabilities.

A selfie from 35 floors above the city
We love these "kids!"
While we are enjoying the country we are living in and learning much from this experience, the greatest joy has been in the love we have found among the people. While they may seem a bit guarded initially, we have found they have some of the biggest hearts we've met anywhere. And have I mentioned how much I love the young missionaries who are serving God at this time in their lives when they could be hanging out with friends, attending college or starting careers? I love everything about the people here from the missionaries to our Muslim friends, those who are part of our little congregation at church and those who we have been able to share God's love with, those we have been fortunate enough to meet through out projects and those we have yet to meet. As the media is flooded with angry people, protests and prejudice I can not help but reflect on the truth that we are all children of God, that He loves every single one of us. He doesn't care what political party we belong to, what religion we are or what color our skin is. And neither should we. Just love and be loved and the rest will work itself out. 

Our little church congregation in Sarajevo

Hugs abound in Bosnia!

She insisted I take her picture! Who could say no to that smile?

Good thing Elder Echols has loooong arms for selfie taking groups!

These two are always laughing and have a true love of life!

Hugs and more hugs in Bosnia! 
I love the riders I get to work with at Riders of Hope!


  1. Great pictures of your some of your many adventures. We were wondering if most people speak some English or do you always have a translator with you? How about Church meetings?

  2. Many of our partners either speak English or have someone that does. Or we take a translator. We had a great time, however, in Banja Luka this week with a volunteer who spoke no English and was directing us to homes where we were delivering emergency relief supplies. Learned that the word "polako" means "slow down!" In Sarajevo church service is done in both English and Bosonski. It slows everything down because it is done one after the other. Tuzla church meetings are all done in Bosonski. Dionne and I just try to figure it out.

  3. Thanks elder Newton...I looked up "Bosonski" to find out what that was. Glad you are doing so well there and that sister Newton is getting to use her talent with horses and therapy.