Born in 1990, Sherry Roeder was only two years old when the Bosnian War broke out. Even though her mind was young, unforgettable memories lingered, and as she matured, recollections that seemed more like dreams were verified.
One vivid memory stuck with Roeder, and potentially, could be interpreted as divine intervention.
Roeder, a now assistant county and district attorney for Ellis County, first believed she was destined to become a lawyer while living at refugee camps.
Roeder grew up in a grey, brick home with a flat concrete slab roof in the small village Kumarica in Bosnia. Family members resided close in adjacent property in the town of no more than 100.
“It was pretty much the fight for Yugoslavia, which is now divided into different countries,” Roeder explained. “I remember reading it in the history books, and they called it ethnic cleansing because it was primarily two religions going at it and fighting for territory.”
Serbian and Croatian Christians fought the Bosnian Muslims from 1992 until 1995. Sherry explained Bosnian law required every male to enlist in the military and would be drafted as needed, much like in the United States.
“My dad’s brother was killed in the war, and my father was shot in that war, so he’s always had this idea that Christians are terrible people,” Roeder detailed.
To put it plainly, Roeder and her parents lived in a warzone. Her father walked back and forth from home to base daily and served in active duty for the better part of five years.
“Because the troops went so quickly through the area — they would come in an infiltrate one village, and the people would run or disperse and then they would go to the next,” Roeder recalled. “We could kind of tell where or what time because you could hear the screaming or the bombs or gunshots.”
The explosives and loud noises eventually resulted in a perforated eardrum for the toddler.
As enemy troops neared, her family picked up their lives and headed to a refugee camp. The family of three, along with a German Shepherd puppy, loaded up in a covered wagon and traveled down a rocky dirt road.
“I remember my dog falling off and screaming and being terrified,” Roeder said. “I remember my parents being in a state of urgency and like, ‘We can’t stop and get him. We just need to get out right now.’”
She continued, “I think that was one of the most traumatizing times, I think, just because I finally realized something was wrong.”
Roeder assured the lost dog had a happy ending as her grandparents later found the pup after returning from a refugee camp.
Roeder and her parents spent the next three years in three different refugee camps all with different circumstances. At two of the camps, the family lived in a camping tent. At the third camp — Glasnici — the family along with strangers stayed in a portable building that would be used at schools. It would prove to be the best quality of life for the family at any of the camps.
THE FLORAL DRESS
“A dump truck would come with clothes that people donated," Roeder said. "It was first-come-first-serve, so everyone rushed to the area and grabbed whatever they could.”
The tomboy version of Roeder sat in a tree and watched strangers frantically grab necessities. She eyed a floral dress and waited patiently for the rush to die down before she snagged the foreign article of clothing.
“The girl that was housing in the portable with us took it from me," Roeder exclaimed. "My mom has a picture of her wearing the dress and me crying. My eyes are all wet because I’m angry because that’s the dress that I pulled.”
THE LAWYER MOMENT
The Gasnici camp was a defining moment in the life of six-year-old Roeder, as she understood lawyers were people with power and a resource to provide a better quality of life for refugees.
“I wanted to make a difference like they did in my life, and that always makes me emotional,” Sherry said as she wiped a tear from her face.
“I also realized there were not a lot of women with them. I thought, ‘It would be really cool if I could be the first female lawyer,’” she added.
On a regular basis, public announcements disclosed which refugees were eligible to travel to the United States. Roeder compared it to a raffle system and said a second or third cousin to her father vouched for the family to migrate to the states.
“I remember my mom coming home one day and being like, ‘We are going to America.’ I thought, ‘That’s really cool because now I can be a lawyer,’” Roeder said.
CALL ME, SHERRY
Once the family arrived in Texas, the American federal government provided six months of funds to get people financially comfortable. Her father worked at Jiffy Lube, and her mother helped at a nursing home.
Roeder admitted she experienced some culture shock experiencing the variety of ethnicities in the U.S.
She started first-grade in Dallas and was enrolled in English-learner courses. Her third-grade teacher gave her the name "Sherry" because her real name was difficult to pronounce.
To better explain, Roeder said her first and last name nearly filled all the spaces with 19 consonants on standardized tests.
Her birth name is Seherzada, which is from the book, “1001 Arabian Knights.”
Her parents were surprisingly accepting of the new name as the fear of being deported remained.
When she naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2005, Roeder legally made Sherry her middle name.
More changes in life occurred as she was more exposed to American cultures.
Roeder was a bright student and not a very good liar. While in elementary school, Roeder noticed some students waited for the first bell in the gym while the others congregated for Bible study — or what Roeder referred to as tutorials.
The advisor for the group lent her a small book of Bible stories to take home after Roeder expressed curiosity.
“My dad made me give it up because you can’t have a Koran in the house with a Bible,” Roeder said with disappointment.
She gave the Bible to her neighborhood friend, Ashley — who she is still friends with today — and managed to finish all the readings.
As Roeder matured, she formed her own opinion on religion, and still felt a void in her life.
It was a week before her 21st birthday that Roeder found herself in her bedroom crying in between three hours of prayer.
“I remember because I didn’t know what the way was that I prayed, I prayed to Allah, to Buddha, to God, to whoever was listening," Roeder said.
She continued, “I remember feeling peace and that Jesus is the way.”
From then Roeder continued the path toward Christianity and discretely attended church, hiding it from her family.
The first day she attended a Christian church was on her birthday in March 2011. She was baptized four months later.
“July 17, 2011,” Roeder precisely recalled.
On that day, her father sat her down to confront her about her religious beliefs and gave her an ultimatum to be a believer in the teachings of the Koran or leave the family.
“It was the most terrified —other than walking into a church for the first time — I’ve ever been … But I knew I had to do it, but I wasn’t sure where the courage would come from," Roeder said.
With strength, Roeder told the truth about her love for Jesus Christ. Before things could get out of hand, Sherry left her father’s home — without shoes on — and began to drive. She felt somewhat liberated.
Even though communication halted with her father and one aunt, Roeder was blessed by the support from her church family as they helped assist her with the purchase of textbooks, dental work, car repairs and even having her ear problem fixed.
Her middle school principal, Dretha Burris, took responsibility for Roeder and assisted in areas where a parent would. Eventually, in 2014, Burris formally adopted Roeder as a 24-year old adult.
Looking at the full circle of her life: It was a group of Christians that forced her family out of their homeland and, when Roeder had no one, it was a group of Christians who embraced her when no one else would.
Roeder did say she forgives her father daily.
"A lot of times, people say, "Everything happens for a reason,' and I'm not a believer in that. Even in this job, especially in felony, children get abused every day, and people get killed every day, and I don't think that's God doing that because he gave us free will," she said. "But, I think he gave us those circumstances for something good to come out of them."
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450