Trip 38 / Entry 16 / Ljubljana, Slovenia

Wednesday – Saturday, May 7-10, 2014

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Leadership Conference

 

Andrej and Lydja brought me back to my hotel in Ljubljana on Monday evening and then on Tuesday I accompanied Pastors Chris Scobie and Don Barry to Opatija for the day (see the Panorama in an earlier blog).

IMG_1975For the last six or more years I have either slept in a room above the church or on a mattress on the floor in the church library. In all this time I have never stayed in a hotel. But on this occasion I spent eight nights in the City Hotel. They bent over backwards to take care of us and if you ever IMG_2031go to Ljubljana, I can recommend it. To be honest, I thought this very pleasant 3-Star hotel should be more expensive than it turned out to be. At 68 euro a night (around $90.00 USD)  with an amazing breakfast, it was a bit of a deal. I stayed eight nights so it ran into a few dollars. Nevertheless, it was right in the city center and convenient. I am some amused at myself because here I am in one of the most charming cities in southern Europe and I mostly stay in my room typing blogs (that perhaps no one reads). Please let me know if your read them!!! If not, I will become more of a tourist.

Don Barry and Polona Verovsek

Don Barry and Polona Verovsek

On Wednesday, as I came out of the hotel, I saw two guys standing in front of the hotel and recognized them as my fellow featured presenters. Don Barry and Tony Saxon of New Zealand were waiting to get picked up while I was on my way to get my suitcase fixed.  We shook hands and right away I knew that we were going to be good friends. And that’s just what happened. Over the next four days we were on the same page. I think it is something spectacular to meet people from the other side of the world and have immediate affinity with them. We were theological and ministry experience clones. This happens to me all of the time. I believe these sorts of connections are literally divine.

 

Chris Scobie

Chris Scobie

It would be impossible to relate to you all that took place over those days. But let me say this much, this would have never have happened ten years ago. The evangelical church was deeply fractured in Slovenia and leaders would not so much as talk to one another let alone be in the same room together. All would agree that Chris Scobie has had much to do with this transformation. In the same room were leaders of perhaps five missionary organizations and ten or more churches. Pentecostals, Baptists, Reform, Independent, Calvary Chapel and more from a number of cities across the Balkans and Slovenia. As they say, “A good time was had by all.”

As for ministry, Don Barry was incredible with five messages that hit home. He was transparent about his own challenges through which all could identify with the universal struggles of ministry. These  alone were worth the time and price of admission. Then, Tony Saxon, had words of encouragement for a number of the leaders. This left many in tears as he honed in on the very things they needed to hear.

Chris, Polona, Me, Tony Saxon, Don Barry, Karmelo Kresonja

Chris, Polona, Me, Tony Saxon, Don Barry, Karmelo Kresonja

At the end, all of the “behind the scenes” workers, translators and special presenters were honored. Being one of the four left me feeling that the many trips to Slovenia has all been worthwhile.

Trip 38 / Entry 15 / Kobarid, Slovenia

Saturday, May 3, 2014

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The Zelenaks and Kelleys

Later the same day we made a drive of about twenty minutes to the home of the Kelleys’, missionaries from Texas with the Southern Baptists International Missions Board. They come from Texas and have been in this area of Slovenia for eleven years, spending the first seven in Siberia. Now fully settled and mostly integrated into the community they are involved in a variety of mission activities. You can find Joe and Kim on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheGreatXchange/info   He describes his invitational sports ministry in the following way, “We facilitate spiritually and physically challenging and eternally rewarding volunteer mission experiences that result in a lifestyle of cross-cultural disciple making and international church planting.” 

A more specific explanation can be found at their website http://sloveniagreatexchange.com/  

IMG_2244Joe showed us his bicycle shed where he has ten or more first class mountain bikes hanging from the rafter. Then in other places you find evidences of mountain climbing, kyacking, rafting and so forth.

So how does it work?

Joe and Kim do their passion and I am always of the opinion that if we do what we are wired for, we are less likely to burn out. These Texans are avid outdoors people so they invite volunteers who share the same passion to join them in sharing the gospel through acts of service and the printed word as they encounter villagers, and others in camp grounds or along the road. More often teams of seven Christians, primarily from the United States, come to Slovenia to join Joe in a variety of sports activities which includes biking through the Alps, hiking, mountain climbing or shooting the rapids.

They are a lovely couple and because I grew up in their “neck of the woods” we had an immediate affinity. If you have an interest in this sort of experience or mission I suggest you contact them and give this a week of your time. I doubt if you will be disappointed. This is a very beautiful and inspiring corner of the world that desperately needs the gospel.

 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 14 / Kobarid, Slovenia

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Always treasure where and when you find it.

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Later we took a drive to visit a few of the friends of Andrej and Lydja’s ministry. At this point Andrej wisely doesn’t  intend to start a “church” and for good reason. This would be considered suspiciously and viewed as competitive with the Parish church. AFTER ALL, THE REFORMATION WAS STOPPED IN IT’S ADVANCE RIGHT HERE. Protestant and evangelical faith here is the doctrine of hell. He doesn’t need to contend with undue attention and criticism so he prefers to simply create a community of people who want to learn the Bible together and this approach has caused people to drive some distance to hear him teach on Friday nights.

In this group that met on Friday night were two interesting attenders I said that I would like to meet. The first of these were Maja and her father, Branko who was an atheist for most of his life. Though she didn’t give the details, it appeared that Maja was a bit of a party girl but finally came up empty and while tutoring a village lady in mathematics who inquired about her spiritual condition, she, in time, called upon the name of the Lord.

IMG_2214Maja doesn’t seem to be intimidated by much so she shared the gospel with many. Her family members were resistant but now some of them have also embraced Jesus alone for their eternity. It turned out that her dad who lived under the same roof was the most difficult but eventually surrendered to Jesus as well. Branko is now as soft as putty and whenever he mentioned his conversion or the name of Jesus, his eyes filled with tears and he has to look away. This strong, physical Yugoslav is no push over (most men in this region are real men) but now rushes to his bedside to retrieve his crumpled and well-worn prayer list of some thirty or more names.

As most of you know, I am not an advocate of a hard, fatalistic, Reform sovereignty but when one finds any believer here, it is always “a brand plucked from the fire.” The stories are always so amazing that one must admit to the sovereign reach of God. It is so very dark. The box is sealed so tightly, there is so little light but one word can punch a hole in the box and the truth is, the box is no longer pitch dark at all. The light may be dim for years until another hole comes and more light floods in but finally the entire, once dark  box, is flooded with light. Even after a person is “converted” there is much work to be done. Andrej knows that the key is the word of God and that “the entrance of His word gives light.”

Trip 38 / Entry 13 / Kobarid, Slovenia

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My host family are the Zelenaks who serve with ACCI in this region of Slovenia. It is my guess that in this area there would not be more than one-hundred Bible Christians among approximately 200,000 Italians and Slovenes so they have their work cut out for them. This is where it was determined  the Reformation would advance no farther and it didn’t. Even today, five-hundred years later, protestant convictions are considered and called heresy. To become a Bible Christian here is to lose your family and reputation.

I was happy to come this Alpine area to see the beautiful mountains, villages, rivers and lakes. It is truly a beautiful place to live. I am always impressed with our missionaries who make the hard choices and arranging their lives in such a way as to survive on almost nothing.

IMG_2241Andrej and Lydja went out of their way to show me a good time. Lydja cooked up a chicken lunch that was very similar to Chicken Parmesan but with a Slovenian twist and along with the french fries and fresh salad, I had a real home cooked meal. This was a nice break from hotel, street and restaurant food.

IMG_2187After lunch we all crowed into their Fiat Punto and they took me to see the famous Soce River Park where we hiked for about a mile to see what National Geographic Magazine calls one of “Ten Must See’s in 2014.” I had no idea of what to expect until I came around the corner of the dark, rock walled canyon to see the light bursting through from above and an amazing waterfall of bright turquoise pouring into an cerulean pool. It was an amazing and worthwhile trek. Don’t go there without seeing it.

Opatija, Croatia / Panorama

May 6, 2014

Want to take a holiday that glitters?

IMG_2256 CropChris got the idea that we should all go down to the Adriatic coast for the morning. I had been there before but never unhappy to go again. The scenery, tranquility and above all, the ice cream are spectacular. It’s about an hour and half drive so we left at about seven returning by 1:30. One of the Kiwi’s(Don) made the trip while Tony, who has never quite recovered from jet lag, stayed in his bed for the day.  I really got to know Don on this short venture and it just amazes me how much two people can have so much in common when they have almost nothing in common. He is the flip side version of me and my journey and I his. This shouldn’t be surprising since he is down-under.

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Trip 38 / Entry 12 / Kobarid, Slovenia

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Outreach

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IMG_5039I was quite happy to see the room fill in some and by the advertised time of 7:30. the crowd was somewhat respectable considering most people consider any church other than Catholic a “sect” which actually means a cult and something to be avoided. Events of this nature are most often viewed suspiciously and shunned by the general society at large. Even though Andrej is a hometown boy and known by IMG_4964almost everyone, no one knows quite what to make of him. So, before we ever begin the cards are stacked against us. Almost no one knows of or has ever heard the gospel so it is quite foreign to the ears of almost everyone and sounds to all like a strange doctrine.

IMG_5105Nevertheless, Andrej and Lydja keep smiling and inviting folks to their Bible studies and events. Tonight we have mustered about twenty locals, some driving from as far away as one hour. Altogether, counting our team we have an audience of perhaps thirty.

The music starts with Andrej on guitar, Mateja on piano and Polona helping with vocals. The crowd does their best to sing and after four or five choruses I am introduced as the special speaker. With translation I spoke almost an hour on “Who Is the Real Jesus?” At first the congregation seemed impossible to connect with but soon with text opened up and lots of story telling, I had them listening and interacting. At the conclusion I offered Jesus with one person responding. To some of my readers, this may seem like nothing but you have no idea what a decision like this will cost a person. It is a huge undertaking and people must count the cost. Several others talked with me following the concluding prayer and wanted counsel and prayer.

IMG_5249 CROPDuring my message one little girl of about eight years listened to every word and I could tell that she understood in English. Following the meeting I enjoyed meeting her mom, dad and sister. We had a great deal in common since the Kelley’s come as Southern Baptist missionaries from Texas, a denomination and state I know well.

 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 11 / Kobarid, Slovenia

Friday, May 2,2014

Sergeja, Mateja, Polona, Me, Deanna, Miteja, Rok and Brane

Sergeja, Mateja, Polona, Me, Deanna, Miteja, Rok and Brane

IMG_2081One of our ACCI missionary couples live north and west of Ljubljana right on the Italian border and at the base of the Alps. This is a long contested region and have historically taken a huge pounding during the two world wars. There is a lot of history.

Andrej grew up here in this area and at one time his mother was the only Bible Christian. He and his brothers all became believers and one (Brane) works with IVF (InterVarsity Fellowship) at Ljubljana University.

IMG_2080Once you get into the Soce’ River valley the drive gets beautiful. We stopped to look at this famous river which is a bright cerulean blue and turquoise green. It was breathtaking and no photoshop is necessary.

Andrej and is wife, Lydja have started a meeting on Friday nights in the town hall where I was scheduled to preach and though they had advertised they advised me not to expect standing room only attendance. Yet, when the time came, the crowd was respectable enough.

We left Ljubljana in the church van with a team of seven besides myself. The trip takes about two hours and the road winds around the mountains which makes it seem much farther than it really is.

IMG_2107 CropWe arrived exactly at 4:45 as planned and I was shown to my room and got unpacked while everyone else was hugging and catching up on the latest. Little Elija, the Zelenak baby (Elija), gets lots of attention and passed from hand to hand. He is a cute little guy and deserves it.

 

 

IMG_2136We sat down to a nice dinner of beef stew on polenta  and then most went off to prepare the hall and music while I studied for my talk. Here is a photo of what polenta should look like.

 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 10 / Osijek, Croatia

Tuesday to Thursday, April 29 – May 1, 2014

The Osijek Evangelical Theological Seminary

The Osijek Evangelical Theological Seminary

IMG_2044We arrived at The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia where Chris once interned at about five in the afternoon, registered for our rooms and took a short ride into the heart of the city. I would be preaching here on Wednesday evening at the one hundred year old Pentecostal Church that now meets in a former Jewish synagogue.

Vukovar 

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Abandoned

Abandoned

Wednesday morning Chris wanted to drive me some thirty minutes away to Vukovar where 2,000 local defenders held off 36,000 over a period of 87 days. In the end two thousand were killed, 800 went missing and 22,000 were exiled many never to return. Vukovar took the brunt of the fighting and the evidence of automatic rifle fire and shelling  is still everywhere. Many houses remain abandoned.

Osijek

Me, Pastor Damir and Pastor Chris Scobie

Me, Pastor Damir and Pastor Chris Scobie

Osijek Centro

Osijek Centro

We returned to Osijek in the early after noon, met Pastor Damir, had supper and I prepared to preach. There were about forty to fifty who were very receptive and thought they seemed “Slavickly” stern and unmoved at first but were soon laughing and enjoying the message. The message on “Disappointment with God,” is not a theologically light one, I put a few bits of humor which they livened up to and I happily discovered that they are a very hospitable audience.

Chris, Pastor Damir and I went out for dessert where I was given an open invitation to come anytime I like.

The Evangelical Theological Seminary

IMG_2062IMG_2064I was absolutely stunned by the amazing facility that house the students and faculty and remarked that, “Even in America, we rarely see a campus facility as first rate as this one.” Built with over 4.5 million American dollars there are three floors of administration and classrooms unrivaled by most other seminaries in all of southern Europe. The library is one of the best in the Balkan region. Nevertheless, this being said, it suffers for a lack of enrolled students. They are desperate for new, young, trained workers for church planting and leadership.

Trip 38 / Entry 9 / Bosnia

Tuesday, April 28, 2014

Branko pouring over his new books

Branko pouring over his new books

 

 

What passes as a church

What passes as a church

Monday was a preparation day. Chris picked me up at my hotel at 7:30 and we headed off through Croatia for the city of  Banja Luka, (in the Republika Srpska which is the Serbian part of Bosnia) where we would meet Pastor Branko in the Serbian region. This is a trip of about five hours. Bane (Branko) is a humble and sweet believer who has two small congregations some one hour apart. He supports himself through translation work but the going is hard as he explained that in all of Bosnia he suspect among 3.5 million people there are only an estimated four hundred Bible Christians. In his two churches he may have only forty in all. Nevertheless, he maintains that he is not called to count. He is called to remain faithful. It was our joy to give him a couple of theological books in his own language (a rarity).

Cevapcici

Cevapcici

We enjoyed several hours with him, shared a lunch of grilled meat called, Cevapcici, prayed and then got on our way for the three hour drive to Osijek, Croatia.

Trip 38 / Entry 8 / Ljubljana, Slovenia

Sunday, April 27, 2014

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As is my custom I preached at Binkoštna cerkev Center, a church of about 130 people. Though there are couple of similar size, this is the largest evangelical congregation in the capital city of Ljubljana with a population of 300,000 people. In all Ljubljana only has about five hundred practicing Christians. Soon they will be dwarfed by a completely paid for mosque of some twelve million Euros. Though most claim to be Roman Catholic, Slovenia is only nominally Christian and is highly secularized.

Tony 2 LJBThis is the reason why Islam sees European Christianity bankrupt and immoral. It is easy for the taking and predict that the Muslim “call to prayer” will spiritually characterize most major cities of Europe within the next fifty years. 

It is a small gain but this church was only about thirty people ten years ago with one small service but now the room is filled with two Sunday morning services.