Monday, April 30, 2007

Exchange rate woes

The exchange rate between the US dollar and the Euro is at an almost all time low.  Our official field rate for this month is 1.364.  That is, 1 euro is worth $1.364.

In other words, a liter of milk in Kosovo (at least when we left) was 70 euro cents.  For simplicity sake, let's say a quart and a liter are the same thing (technically 1 quart is .946 liters).  That means a gallon of milk costs 2.80 euros.  That doesn't sound like a big deal.  Milk in our area goes for as much as $3.50.  But wait until you convert the currency.

On euro is equal to $1.36.  That means a gallon of milk in Kosovo really costs $3.82.  That's about 50 cents more a gallon than when we left last summer.

This exchange is really putting a cramp on ministry spending as well.  Everything costs more in US dollars as the dollar continues to slide against the euro.  Think about it this way.  Say that a donor gave $1000 for a ministry project in Kosovo.  That $1000 gift would only amount 735 Euro.  That's right...we lose almost twenty-five percent of all donations just because the dollar is so low against the euro.

Now, obviously God owns all the cattle, but this is beginning to really hurt from the viewpoint of this particular sheep.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Interesting news weekend

I saw some interesting headlines today that I thought I would pass on.  Normally the weekends are kind of dull...these three articles are anything but.

Kosovo will become independent, says US

BRUSSELS • Kosovo will be independent with or without a United Nations resolution, and Russia should back an agreement to protect the Kosovo Serb minority, the United States said yesterday.

Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried said it was possible the latest Russian criticism of UN mediator Marti Ahtisaari's plan for the final status of the breakaway Serbian province meant Moscow intended to block a resolution.

"We hope that Russia understands that Kosovo is going to be independent one way or another," Fried said in an interview at a Brussels Forum on transatlantic relations.

We don't often see this level of "frankness" from US State Department officials. 


US may unilaterally recognise Kosovo independence

BRUSSELS. The United States could unilaterally recognise Kosovo's independence even if Russia vetoes such a move at the United Nations, a former US envoy to the Balkans and the UN said Saturday.
"If Russia decides to use its veto (in the UN Security Council), there will be a declaration of independence in Kosovo, and the United States will recognise Kosovo the same day," Richard Holbrook predicted during a conference in Brussels.

This is contrary to what Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Çeku said yesterday.  Of course, Richard Holbrook isn't really employed by the US Gov't anymore, but he certainly knows his way around.

“Tsar Lazar Guard” rounds up Kosovo volunteers

BELGRADE -- The so-called St.Tsar Lazar Guard is gathering volunteers ready to wage a war in case Kosovo becomes independent.
According to Belgrade daily Danas, an organization known as the National Serbian Movement will host a Serbian Assembly in the Lazarica Church in Kruševac on May 5, where it plans to swear in “the Saint Tsar Lazar Guard vowed to free Kosovo and Metohija.”

This would obviously be bad for everyone.  The article goes on to say that 5,000 "eager volunteers"  are already sworn in.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Kosovo won't take unilateral action

Contrary to what I've been predicting here, Kosovo Prime Minister, Agim Çeku, says that Kosovo won't declare independence unilaterally.  According to this story:

“We are not alone in this process and there is no need to take any unilateral decisions because we place trust in the UN”, Ceku remarked, as a reply to the question whether it was possible for Pristina to unilaterally announce Kosovo’s independence.

Çeku doesn't believe that Russia will veto a Security Council resolution, since it would cast into doubt Russia's own reliability as an international negotiating partner.  Russia has been a part of the Contact Group which has guided the whole process until now.


via Free Kosova

A couple reflections from a proud dad

As a dad I have plenty of those warm-fuzzy moments watching my kids.  They do things that make me so proud...usually when they are least aware of it.

I have lunch with my second grader every Wednesday at her school.  It's fun to go to the lunch room and eat with Madison and her friends.  I've met a lot of little kids and their parents this way.  Last week we were munching away on our chips and pizza when one little friend made a comment about a guest the had in their class.  He was a Native American.

They had apparently flown this gentleman in from Arizona to talk to the school about Navaho life-style and traditions.  Around the lunch table, with the eternally-unchanged school milk cartons scattered about, one little girl chirped, "He made me nervous...I didn't care for him much." 

"Why?" I asked.

"I don't know...he was just different from me" was the reply.

I asked my daughter if the man made her nervous.  "Naw.  I thought he was neat" was her reply; I didn't much about it.

This evening we were at a PTA function...a family cook-out and 2nd grade concert.  We went and ate too-expensive pizza from red Papa Johns plates while the kids ate a little and played a lot.  For a moment I lost track of our preschooler, Reilly.  She'd wandered down behind a gentle slope with a group of other little kids. 

After a moment I went after her to see what she was doing.  When I caught up to her she was playing a pre-school version of "hide and seek."  Each of the little band was taking turns hiding one of their toys in plain sight.  Then they'd all run over to a tree, count to five or six together and then run and find what was hidden.

What struck me first was the language Reilly was counting in: Spanish.  Spanish??  Yup, there is my little Albanian missionary kid counting in Spanish, playing with kids she'd never met.  The second thing that struck me was the kids she was playing with.  She wasn't playing with the crowds of well-dressed, golf-shirt and loafer-clad suburban kids.  She was playing with the Hispanic kids.  Cool.

It's hard to express what I think and feel about how my kids are growing up.  People that others find odd, my kids think are normal.  My kids aren't frightened by minorities or those different from them, they are attracted to them.

I don't know whether this is a result of spending time overseas or what.  I just know that I'm proud of my kids.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Russia threatens veto at the UNSC

 Yesterday Russia's deputy prime minister explicitly threatened to veto the Ahtisaari plan for limited independence for Kosovo.  Thus far the Russians have been fairly silent on the Big-V; they haven't threatened to use their Security Council veto.

My guess is that US-Russian negotiations on the proposed US missile shield are not going well and that the Russians are upping the ante a little bit.  According to the EUObserver,

"A decision based on Martti Ahtisaari's draft will not get through the UN security council," Russia's deputy prime minister Vladimir Titov confirmed on Tuesday (24 April), Russian newswires Interfax and Ria Novosti report.

"The threat of a veto should stimulate the search for mutually acceptable options," he added, following months of hint-dropping by Russian diplomats that they would use the ultimate UN sanction.

There hasn't been much linkage between these two issues in the media, but I do not doubt that the missile shield and Russia's acquiescence to the Ahtisaari plan are closely linked (this article almost links them).  Make no mistake, while the Russians are often touted as the Serb's big-brother, the Russians are for the Russians.  They will happily trade off any of the Balkan states to advance their own foreign policy objectives. 

Of course, the Russians aren't the only ones to use the Balkan states for their own ends; all the world powers have done this.  That's why in the Albanian mental DNA there are only two categories of foreigner: the Eastern ones who have invaded and occupied them, and the Western ones who have betrayed them.  Thus far the US has remained a curious third category. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

US State Dept Speech: The Outlook for the Independence of Kosovo

 R. Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of Political Affairs spoke before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today.

You can watch the video here or read a transcript here.  Basically, Burns states a very strong US position for an independent Kosovo. 

We are working closely with NATO and the European Union, whose members agree with us that independence for Kosovo is the only viable outcome. The United States, NATO, and the EU have invested enormous political, economic and military resources in Kosovo and the region -- we have the most significant equities at stake and therefore are most committed to seeing this process through.

The UN Security Council has already begun discussing President Ahtisaari's recommendations. In the coming weeks, the U.S. will sponsor a new Security Council resolution to replace resolution 1244, which established the current regime of international administration over Kosovo. This resolution will not actually confer independence on Kosovo. Rather, it will remove political and legal impediments to independence, as well as provide mandates for Kosovo’s post-status international supervision under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. We expect that Kosovo’s leaders will subsequently declare their independence. The U.S. and other countries will then recognize the new state. Our goal is to bring the Kosovo status process to a timely and successful conclusion by the end of this spring. We believe that the Security Council will recognize that President Ahtisaari's proposals represent the best chance to achieve a sustainable solution [emphasis added].

It seems like we really are coming down the wire.  Note specifically that the US will introduce a new UNSC resolution.

US Senate bill supporting independence for Kosovo

I saw this in a news article last week, but had difficulty navigating the US Senate's website.  I found the bill here and it makes for interesting reading.

The bill was referred to the Committed on Foreign Relations where, I imagine, it will languish.  I'm mostly posting this as a bookmark for the bill, in case it ever sees the light of day. 

Monday, April 16, 2007

Easter Service Report

On almost every Easter since the war, the evangelical churches of Kosovo have jointly sponsored an Easter Service in the capital city of Prishtina.  This Easter, 2007, was perhaps the largest gathering ever.  Below is a great report, written by the national evangelical church organization.  I've deleted the names of some of those involved.  I haven't personally recieved permission from them to publish their names whereas others, whose names are below, are public figures.

God continues to do great things in Kosovo!  I was told that a whole bus came up from Gjilan.

On 8th April there was an Easter Service at the National Theater in Prishtina. The service began at 1pm and this year the participation was bigger than previous years with many churches from other cities joining together to celebrate Easter. There were approximately 750 people.

The Service was organized by the Kosova Protestant Evangelical Church. We felt God's presence throughout the preparation time and His provision for the different needs for this service.
It was a blessed time and everyone went home with a powerful message in their hearts.

[name deleted] led the worship and meeting time. [name deleted] from Gjakova shared with us his testimony and Artur Krasniqi preached. As well as the Christians, we were glad to see many visitors and guests who joined the celebration. The children had a special meeting at Fellowship of the Lord’s People church and we give thanks for the wonderful care of the children's workers/helpers who did a 'precious' job with them.

After the service we shared a cocktail in front of the National Theatre. We believe that this time of friendship between brothers and sisters in Christ was a good witness for the people around who could sense our joy for the Easter celebration.

The entire service was recorded and at the end of service a photo with all the participants was taken. Whoever is interested in a DVD or Photo can contact us at the KPEC office for copies.

The Easter service didn’t finish because the next day we held a soccer tournament between all the churches in Kosova. 16 teams from different churches participated in the tournament. The new church “Maranatha” won the Easter cup. Congratulations to them.

On Monday, RTK showed a documentary about our community mentioning that the leaders of Kosova did not send their wishes to the Protestant Church for Easter. Pastor Artur Krasniqi gave a short interview regarding this matter.

We want to thank SHPK [local police] for their good work for providing security for us. We also want to thank in the name of our Lord all the brothers and sisters in Christ that made it possible for the service of the Resurrection to be a blessing and a joy for all that were present.

We also want to mention our financial blessings. Thank you to all the churches who gave donations and especially Beselidhja Micro Finance Organization which blessed our service with a considerable amount.

We believe through our Lord that next Easter will serve more people who will come to know the Lord, so that His act on the cross will not be in vain.
All the blessings in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Zyra e KPUK-ut
KPEC Office
Kisha Protestante Ungjillore e Kosoves
Kosova Protestant Evangelical Church
+381 38 225 330

Legal & Prayer Update: Unjust (and unwise) law in Kosovo

Since the end of the war in Kosovo in 1999 dozens of organizations have brought millions of dollars worth of food, clothes, equipment and other humanitarian supplies into Kosovo.  That is all changing.  Now the government has begun to treat NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like regular for-profit businesses with respect to bringing material into Kosovo, including things that will be given away for free, like Samaritans Purse Shoe boxes.

Today I received an update on this issue which sums everything up quite nicely.  It was addressed to the missionary organizations operating within Kosovo:

You have been sent several emails regarding the VAT issue over the past year or so.  Maybe you are unaware of the ramifications of this Law and what our friends John Chesnut, Artur Krasniqi, & Sharon Burton (along with others) are fighting for.    

I’ll try to sum it up in a nutshell.  Some of you are (or were) registered NGO’s and had Public Benefit Status (PBS).  Among other things, this meant that the NGO could bring humanitarian aid and other items into Kosova without paying VAT (through a rebate system).   Unfortunately that changed last year and now all NGO’s (including you) must pay 26.5% (customs & excise & VAT)  on aid/vehicles/equipment etc that you wish to bring into Kosova.  Obviously NGO’s – especially small organizations like us cannot afford to do that.   

Think about the future – would you or your organization want to be able to bring type of equipment or aid to enable a project or to help your ministry – not just NOW but in 10 years? 

This is what this group is fighting for –

  • to stop a system that dictates all NGO’s must pay for aid & equipment which is coming to help the people of Kosova
  • to fight for a ‘fair’ administrative system that will allow NGO’s to continue their work effectively and not be penalized by paying unfair taxes
  • to fight for a ‘fair’ Law that encourages NGO’s to not seek for the ‘back door’ approach to bringing aid into Kosova.

If this affects you, don’t wonder what you can do, join the group and help fight for a better Law and a better system. 


We are not ‘too small’ to make a difference.

As I understand it, this law will effect all kinds of materials being brought into Kosovo. If this continues we will not be able to afford to pay the taxes on things we are giving away for free.

  If this continues we won't be able to participate in events like Sams Purse shoe box distributions like this one and pictures like the one above will be a thing of the past.

The government's position is that Kosovo has moved from a country in need of "relief" to a country in need of "development" and that, therefore, NGOs shouldn't be bringing in great quantities of humanitarian supplies.  As the poorest place in central Europe, however, most of its residents would probably disagree.

Please be in prayer about this issue as it will have a significant impact, not only on Christian organizations, but on NGOs of all types.  In the title I said this was unwise on the part of the government, and it is. 

The government will not generate more revenue from aid imports into Kosovo.  Aid will simply stop, harming the people the government is charged with protecting.

Please pray that the government would act wisely and justly in this regard.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Early reaction: only 4 UNSC countries for independence

The Tiraspol Times is reporting today that, in a initial vote taken on Tuesday, only four of the fifteen countries on the UNSC have lined up to support an independent Kosovo.

While the article doesn't mention which ones, it does mention the growing interest of the US Senate:

Meanwhile, in the US Senate, a bi-partisan draft resolution submitted by Joseph Lieberman, Joseph Biden and John McCain will urge president George W. Bush to step up the heat in the United Nations, increasing US pressure in the UN Security Council to have Kosovo declared an independent state.

The UNSC is only in the beginning stages of formal discussion, but it's not exactly an auspicious beginning.  The fall-back position, of course, is for Kosovo to declare independence unilaterally and hope that friendly countries will recognize the new state.

Such a move would make Kosovo a member of a small club of countries around the world which exists as de facto independent countries but which have limited international recognition and are not members of the United Nations. Taiwan is the best-known example of such countries, but the group also includes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Abkhazia, Transdniester (Pridnestrovie) and Western Sahara, among others.

It has been my contention all along that the plan currently before the UNSC was merely an official stalking horse for a unilateral independence bid.  News earlier this week indicate that Kosovo's immediate neighbors would recognize and independent Kosovo regardless of UNSC action.  Many of the EU countries would follow suit, but by no means all.

There is no easy way out of this mess.  There are other countries with similar, though not equal, claims for independence.  The UN is treading on dangerous territory by being a part of a forced solution in Kosovo.  We'll have to watch as this drama unfolds and see what happens.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Home at last

After a speaking tour that included speaking about Kosovo 95 times in 27 churches I'm home at last.  Yesterday I got home from a great, though short trip to San Jose, CA where I had the privilege of speaking to one of our ethnic Chinese churches.  What a great group of people!! 

Now I'm off for some vacation at the beach with the family.  Whew.