By Andrew Nash
Mirsada’s parents had a plan to escape from the Bosnian Civil War. The first step was getting to Germany. The second step was getting arrested intentionally.
“When we came to Germany, we had to actually go to the bus station and act like we didn’t have money to pay for tickets so that they would arrest us,” Mirsada said. “So that way, when they arrest us in Germany, we tell them we don’t have any papers, that we don’t have anything. That’s the way they could fix it for us to stay over there as immigrants.”
Mirsada was nine years old when her parents took her and her three younger sisters from their home country to seek refuge before the fighting broke out. In Germany, she met her husband and had the couple’s first daughter. With a six-month-old in tow, Mirsada, her husband, her parents and her sisters moved from Germany to Utah to live near an aunt. This aunt turned out not to be the support structure the family needed.
“We were crying. We really wanted to go back because we could not find jobs,” she explained. “My husband and my dad were looking for jobs, but they could not find anything. We didn’t even know where the store was. Actually, the store was close to the corner from our house; you just walk a little bit, turn right and there was the store. But we didn’t know.”
The lack of support forced another move in 2002, this time to move closer to an uncle and her husband’s family in St. Louis. The couple also had a second daughter by this time.
“St. Louis is good for us and for my kids,” she said. “There are a lot of Bosnians and we have Bosnian stores. We have a lot of Bosnian people that are helping us, you know, in case you go to the doctor and we don’t understand; there is always somebody who can translate for us.”
One of the resources they found in St. Louis was a food pantry. It was there that Mirsada met CBF field personnel Mira and Sasha Zivanov, sparking a relationship between Mirsada’s family and the couple serving in St. Louis. It is a bond that has gone far beyond friendship.
“Whatever I need, pretty much I can depend on them,” she said. “Even if I just need to talk to somebody, I can call Mira and ask her if I can come over. She says ‘sure,’ and I go over and talk to her. If I have stress at home or something going on, I can go over there, and I can talk to her.”
Mirsada’s children often visit the Zivanovs to get help with homework. That prompted the creation of a tutoring program.
“Mirsada’s daughter Melanie was the one who was always coming with her homework to us and asking for help,” Mira said. “We started the tutoring program just because of Mirsada’s family, and that grew to include 19 kids. We have seven families included in our tutoring program. Mirsada’s family was the largest group of kids, and that’s how we decided to start something that can help those kids and help parents, too.”
When Mirsada’s oldest daughter was looking at applying to colleges, the Zivanovs were there to help guide her through the system, helping her fill out the financial aid forms to enable her be able to afford college. If a kid needs a ride to school, the Zivanovs are there. If Mirsada needs a ride to her job, the Zivanovs are there. The help can be as big as filling out paperwork or as small as help with a bill.
“A few months ago, our electricity was turned off for four or five days,” Mirsada said. “I called Mira and Sasha, and I told them my electricity got turned off, and I have to pay this much to get it turned back on. So, they found a way to help us with that.”
The International Fellowship Center opened by Mira and Sasha has been a tremendous resource to immigrants like Mirsada. They have helped Mirsada and others with translation, finding jobs, applying for citizenship and more. They even helped Mirsada get her job at Walmart, despite her difficulties with reading and writing English.
“Mira and Sasha show us a lot of respect and care for my family, pretty much more than even my own family,” Mirsada said. “They help us with anything we need. Every question we don’t know, we call and ask them. Any help we need, we call them. We ask them if they are able, and they always help us with anything we need.”
The CBF Offering for Global Missions makes possible the long-term presence of CBF field personnel like Mira and Sasha Zivanov. Learn more about the Offering at www.cbf.net/OGM. This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of fellowship! magazine. Read online and subscribe at www.cbf.net/fellowship.