Krebs family committed to reconciliation task in Kosovo

Can a young family from Hillsboro, Kan., help make peace in Kosovo, a region of the world that for centuries has been battered by ethnic hatred and violence?

Matt and Judy Krebs don’t know if they can. They only know they have been called by God to try.

“This place really grabbed hold of us,” Matt said about their years-long interest in global missions. “Other options in the past seemed OK, but God just didn’t move us. Now, we know this is right.”

The Krebs family-including daughters Landry, 5, and Anika, 6 months-will leave Hillsboro May 24 for Pennsylvania, where they will spend seven weeks in orientation and training with their sponsoring agency, Eastern Mennonite Missions.

If the Krebs have raised enough financial support for an initial three-year term, the family will depart in mid-July for that beleaguered region in southern Europe.

The Krebs say they are aware of the enormous challenges they will face there. The fighting between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians dominated world headlines in the late 1990s as information came to light about Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s attempts to “cleanse” the area of Albanians.

Although the bitter fighting has quelled and U.N. forces remain on site in an attempt to maintain order, little has been done to repair the devastation of civil war.

“We just feel it’s a place where people have no hope,” Matt said. “I don’t know how we’ll define success, but we just want to be people who offer something different that says we’re not here to control you or make you more like us.

“We want to be people who go in and live in their culture and still hold on to our faith, but love people and develop relationships with people-even with the differences that will be there.”

That the Krebs would think about long-term missions isn’t surprising. The couple got to know each other on a year-long mission assignment in Germany while both were Tabor College students during the early 1990s.

They were married in 1993, six months after their return from Germany. Over the past 10 years they have been employed in various venues. Until the birth of Anika last October, Judy worked at Northview Development Services for eight years. Matt will finish five years working for Prairie View by the time they leave the area.

“We’ve been looking for long-term cross-cultural things with Eastern Mennonite for the past five or six years,” Matt said. “Various things kept coming up that caused us to say that we knew the call was there, but it wasn’t quite time yet.”

When Eastern Mennonite suggested the idea of going to Kosovo, something clicked.

“The last several years our faith journey has evolved,” Matt said. “Specific issues have become more and more important to us, such as peace and reconciliation, justice and injustice-especially in Kosovo, where issues have lasted for generations and generations.”

Once they arrive in Kosovo, they will spend their first year in the capital city of Pristina learning to speak Albanian.

That in itself will be a challenge, the Krebs said.

“In places where you can look at the difficulty of languages, it’s not as high as the hardest-which would be like Mandarin and Cantonese-but it’s right below that,” Matt said.

Judy is fluent in German, which has similarities with Albanian.

“Only Albanian is spoken in the villages, but we’re told she could get around with knowing German,” Matt said.

After a year in Pristine, the Krebs will begin their work in Dechan, a village that once boasted a population of 12,000 to 15,000 people but now has less than 2,000.

“Many people have either been killed, disappeared or left the region,” Matt said. “Pretty much the whole community has been obliterated. So we’re going to go there and our focus is going to be relationship building.”

The Krebs will join a team of three Eastern Mennonite adult workers already stationed in Kosovo. As the team builds relationships with local people, it hopes to plant a church in Dechan.

Kosovo is about 98 percent Muslim.

“We’re not sure what that’s going to look like yet,” Judy said of their goal for starting a Christian church.

“When we say church plant, that’s out ultimate goal,” Matt said. “And yet it will be a lot different from a traditional missionary church plant, where you go in and evangelize and set up a little church.

“We’re going to want to develop relationships and live with the people-maybe even for the whole first three-year term. We want to establish trust and communication.”

Judy said the team will also be involved in micro-business ventures in an effort to help villagers generate income in a region where close to 75 percent of the people are unemployed.

Although violence and strife in Kosovo have faded from the headlines in this country, the Krebs say the region is far from stable. The current population is about 90 percent Kosovo Albanians, but the Serbians that surround the region vastly outnumber the Albanians.

“If (the Serbs) would decide they want Kosovo back for themselves, I don’t know that the U.N. will want to stick around and try to keep it the way it is now,” Matt said. “I don’t know what resources there are (in Kosovo) that are important to the U.N.”

At the same time, people living in Kosovo are getting increasingly frustrated with the U.N. because little has been done to rebuild roads and schools.

“The U.N. is still there, but the rebuilding of the country isn’t happening very well,” he said.

Because of the tenuous situation, the window of opportunity for Westerners to enter the country as workers may close in six to eight years, according to observers.

In the meantime, the day-to-day environment in Kosovo is tense, but not volatile.

“The team there says it’s not stable-at least not what we think of as stable,” Matt said. “Yet they don’t feel like to this point they’ve been in danger. They would say you just don’t go to places where you know the two groups mix.”

The Krebs say they are not concerned about their personal safety, but their extended families are.

“It’s ironic that people are most concerned about us taking our children there-and yet we really feel strongly that this is as much for them and the rest of their lives as it is for us,” Matt said. “Who knows? Maybe they’ll settle in long-term there.

“We’re really excited that this is really a family call.”

More from article archives
LAWN & GARDEN: The family that mows together…
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY JULIE ANDERSON For Milford and Janelle Klaassen, mowing is...
Read More