'F' as in Frank

Independence Day

It was a blip on the news radar this past Sunday, shuffled somewhere between the U.S. presidential contest and the latest Britney brouhaha.

But it was big news for southeastern Europe, as on Sunday, Feb. 17, the tiny nation of Kosovo declared its independence.

About 10 years ago Kosovo was one of several parts of the former Yugoslavia that erupted in violence. We were living in Budapest at the time, close enough on the map to cause parents to worry, but a continent away as far as any threat to Hungary or Europe was concerned.

But we did feel impacts from the battle front there. Impacts on people, on families.

I remember one shaken woman who attended our church service one Sunday, fresh off a bus ride from Serbia, where she saw men and boys forcefully taken off the bus and coerced to fight in a war they were trying to flee.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg for us-situated centrally between east and west-as far as receiving emigres fleeing what once was Yugoslavia.

Once we were asked to help a family of Kosovar Albanians with the transition from their destroyed city to the U.S., since Budapest was the closest American embassy. A church in Michigan took care of the expenses, but they needed us to help them with translation and guide them through the red tape in Hungary. We also had to locate accommodations for the week or so they needed to be in Budapest.

As agreed, I met them at the U.S. Embassy. But the six or seven people I was told we'd be helping had actually turned out to be 19, mostly young children and women as extended family members and friends were able to also flee Kosovo with them.

God worked it all out, and with help from some of the Hungarian church members, we were able to get our flock herded through, at times, scenes of racial prejudice and downright condescension they experienced from some Budapest residents. That, of course, on top of the horrors they had seen and experienced before fleeing Kosovo.

These 19 arrived in Budapest with little, but by the time they left they had made friends, acquired some much-needed clothing and left us feeling richer for the experience.

When I saw a news brief Sunday about Kosovo declaring independence-with national flag and song still to be determined-a vision flashed through my mind of about 30 of us, Albanian, Hungarian, Romanian and American laughing and snapping a group picture in Budapest overlooking the Danube.

It was a liberating experience, our own little world where differences in language and background took a backseat to a higher purpose.

But Kosovo's Independence Day, I glumly thought, came about 10 years too late to help our friends.

Then again, I smiled and thought maybe, just maybe, they had actually experienced their Independence Day 10 years earlier than their homeland did.


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