IT ALL STARTED
WITH ONE CHILD.
My sister-in-law and I discussed the news coverage of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) with an aching heart for the horrible atrocities against women and children. We often asked ourselves, "why isn't anyone doing something to help?" One day, the conversation shifted; my sister-in-law told me that she had decided to travel to BiH and aid those who had been forgotten. In my heart I knew the country needed help, I just didn't know the help would come from someone I cared about.
Collette traveled to BiH and served the country with a gracious heart, but in 1993, everything changed. Collette was inside a building that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade and became the first American aid worker killed. In an instant, a war half way across the world suddenly felt like it was in my backyard. Seeking closure, I traveled to Croatia in 1995 with a team to counsel women that had been victims of ethnic cleansing. While visiting a Bosnian refugee camp, I connected with a mother and her 9-year old daughter, Melisa. With Melisa translating, I was invited into their home (a small room). Over a strong cup of Bosnian coffee, we talked about our children and a deep bond began to form. When it was time to say goodbye, I was touched by Melisa's parting request, "please don't forget me." Those four simple words penetrated my heart, and remained in my thoughts daily. I asked myself how I would make room in my life, as a busy wife and mother to never forget this young girl and her family.
For the next four years Melisa and I exchanged letters. Single paragraphs, as Melisa was learning English, developed into pages of heartfelt stories building an unforgettable relationship. I shared about my life raising four children, the kids' sports and going to Lake Michigan, all the while praying for Melisa and her family. Melisa shared about the war ending, the refugee camp closing and finding a small home to live in after discovering the destruction of their village. I was sure that life was good for Melisa and her family. I felt at peace, I had fulfilled my commitment.
In 1999 I had the opportunity to travel to Vukovar Croatia, a short three hours away from Melisa and her family. I was excited to witness what I hoped was the comfortable life they had rebuilt after the war; what I saw changed my life forever. Melisa's village was destroyed; her family had been forced to call leftover remains of a post war structure their new home. I knew that I had to do something beyond writing letters; I wanted to help Melisa and her family find hope in what seemed like a hopeless situation. Through refuge sought in prayer, God revealed His answer. Melisa had a strong desire to not only help her family, but also contribute to the rebuilding of her country. An education was necessary, but no scholarships and student loans are available to students in the country. In addition, living hours away from a university made her dream seem impossible despite her academic talent. In 2000, the Jericho Foundation was formed to fulfill a little girl's simple request, "please don't forget me."
Today, the Jericho Foundation rallies monthly donors to come alongside children and change their legacy. Jericho raises thousands of dollars annually to bring tangible hope to the oppressed people of BiH. Lives are changed through our HOPE programs highlighting holistic care, opportunities, personal relationships and education. Through these pursuits, Jericho is helping this war-torn country rebuild itself one child at a time.
While in search of inspiration for a name that would not only honor her parents but also her faith, Joanna decided to go back to her roots for some answers.
Joanna grew up on a rural centennial farm on the outskirts of Lansing, Michigan. The back 40 acres of their land was once a small town with a story. Her father spoke about the town when it consisted only of a few houses owned by blacksmiths, while his mother would bring plates of food to their neighbors. Joanna remembers searching for hidden treasures around the area as a child. This once small town was named “Jericho.”
When Jericho came to mind, another story emerged. In the Bible, a good Samaritan traveling to Jericho
was the only person to stop and help a man in need.
He "loved his neighbor as himself."
Inspired by these memories, Jericho has become a symbol of faith, family and a pillar of hope.
Pictured is Joanna, her family, and their German exchange student.