Trip 38 / Entry 37 / Meat in the heat

Sunday, June 8, 2014

 

IMG_3248 crop

After a long drive into the mountains we arrived at a small house with cars parked along the side of the road. As we made our way into the yard we saw young men playing football (soccer), while older women sat talking under tall poplar trees trying to stay out of the sun. There was not a hint of a breeze.

We were invited inside the one room house to change into our casual clothes in the bathroom but when we went through the door we were immediately arrested by the air conditioned interior and the couch along the wall. We sat and waited our turn as we watched six Spanish girls chop tomatoes, lettuce and cilantro. We regretted to hear that the bathroom was now free, we could change our clothing and go out under the roof or the trees with the other forty hot, sweating people. Being the oldest people in the crowd allowed us few special privileges.

Outside the unfinished, three sided building was empty except for two guys playing ping pong and three others standing around a grill turning mounds of meat. I wasn’t surprised to see our guests and my Brazilian friend from Portugal giving a hand. Brazilians, barbecue and meat are synonymous. After what seemed like a very long time due to the heat and the lack of shade an incredible sit down meal was laid out for about forty or more people. We all had more than we could eat and frankly, some of the food had to go home with folks as leftovers. Bacon chunks and rice found its way to the table and almost always does when Spanish or Brazilians are prepping the food.

It was a wonderful time of fellowship and since I didn’t know everyone attending I took up a conversation with five people who were apparently unbelievers but I didn’t know so they all got plan “A” as I explained the purpose of apologetics by presenting several examples which caught their attention. For one thing, I talked about it means to have a Christian worldview and what it means to be human (Imago Dei) and the meaning of the fall using the text, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Indirectly many of my comments were affirmed though as it often happens, once the conversation gets too deep some retreat into obvious but utter silence.

In reality though, this is the most effective method for doing evangelism in a gospel resistant culture like Italy. The party model where Christians having a good time are put together with non-believers is most convincing since people can see the gospel before they ever hear it. The chances that any of these unchurched friends will find themselves in an evangelical church anytime soon are beyond remote unless they have prior positive exposure to the message or messenger(s).

 

Trip 38 / Entry 34 / Alberto and Karla’s

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Leaving Jeanne in the B and B for a couple of hours, I went down to Pulchinella (a coffee shop) to meet Pastor Aldo. All along it was planned that we would carve a little time to talk about recognized ministerial training for a new generation of pastors and the anticipated growth of biblical Christianity in Italy. We were together until noon until I rushed off to get Jeanne and go to Karla and Alberto’s for lunch.

The color coordination was a total accident!

The color coordination was a total accident!

Pietro

Pietro

Karla is married to Alberto and she is Kevin’s sister. Kevin is an Italian living with us and attending university. Karla and Alberto have a little baby boy by the name of Pietro and Jeanne wanted to see him so we got a free lunch. Karla cooked up gnocchi followed by salad, potatoes and a rolled Parmesan styled chicken item stuffed with pancetta and mozerella.

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.

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 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.

Kendal (sort of) and Kirkby-Lonsdale in The Lake District

Ruskin’s most beautiful view. What do you think?

After driving into Kendal and then driving out again, I wanted to show Jeanne something a little more quaint. About seven or eight years ago I came up this way  and friends drove me around to the prettiest villages. I remember one little hamlet with a beautiful, wide stream, a small castle turret and gate on the other side with this old stone arching bridge surrounded by massive trees on both sides. This is what I had hoped to find.

The authentic Lonsdale Bakery

We back-tracked and eventually wound up at lovely Kirkby Lonsdale. Though it was spitting rain and threatening more to come, we took a long walk first around the village. We were told by S. that we needed to see and experience several things. The first, he said, you must have lunch at the Lonsdale Bakery and he was right. Then, he advised us to take a walk through the St. Mary’s church yard and behind the church on a pathway, you will overlook what Ruskin called “The most beautiful view in all of England.” No doubt about it, it’s a good one but, in our opinion, there are many contenders for this title. I took the picture above pictures so I’ll let you decide.

The Ellerwaite

At about four, we drove on to Windermere  where we took a room at the Ellerwaite Lodge. The truth is, we didn’t shop very hard. Being off-season, if we would have just driven a little farther we would have found plenty of vacancies closer to the lake. We advise the reader to do this. Stopping at almost the first hotel that came into view, we looked at the room (perhaps one of the three nicest we had) and took it.

Jeanne likes our room

Unfortunately, in so doing we had somehow landed on another planet. The hostess was the oddest person we have ever encountered. Most of the service people working in the UK are from India or eastern Europe, but here was an authentic English or Scottish person with the strangest demeanor in the world. First, she began with, “May I please have your passport?” This always happens in Italy but never once in the UK, so I inquired, “Why would you want my passport?  It’s in the car, no one else has asked for it.” She countered with a stern, “It is the law. It is the law in England that I must see your passport.” Well, I have nothing to hide so with my eyebrows raised and eyeballs rolling, I went out to the car and got my suitcase and dug out my passport. So I gave it to her. She seemed satisfied for the moment, that is, until we stepped toward the door. That was when she said in rather wooden diction, “Most people want to know.” I turned to ask, “Most people want to know what?” She responded with a steely eyed, “Most people want to know what time breakfast will be served.” I was relieved that it wasn’t something more threatening. “Oh, what time is breakfast served?” I asked and once we had the answer, we were out of the door, shaking our collective heads and looking at one another in disbelief.

In spite of this journey into the middle kingdom of Never-Never Land, the room turned out to be a good one, though more flights up than I would have liked.

Jeanne took a bath and relaxed while I walked the streets, going into a pub to experience the village life.

I came close to expletives until Beddgelert emerged!

No photoshopping this one

Okay, we came across some wild landscape of hills dotted with more sheep than Wales has people. This is likely an understatement.

Then I got lost. I came off of the main, well-marked road on to a country road that took me through one small hamlet after another, most of which were not on the map. I suppose I could have turned around but going one direction would be as purposeless as going the other, so I just kept moving forward into the dusk hoping to wind up in a town of some consequence. I knew the name of most towns I would not be able to pronounce. Finally, we popped out of the mountains, cliffs, and hedge rows at a “T” with an arrow pointing toward Beddgelert. I should have known, Beddgelert is not far from other memorable places like Rhyd Ddu, Plas Gywnant and not far from the ever popular, Penrhydeudraeth and the town we were shopping for in the first place, Portmeirion where there was purported to be a good place to eat (what else) according to our guide book.

Thinking it couldn’t be far and besides a rather scenic drive, I betrayed my good sense and went toward Beddgelert. Once I crossed over the bridge, I’m glad I did. There were a number of good places to stay and I was attracted to The Royal Goat (who wouldn’t be?) but they were full. So we booked into the Saracens Head Hotel, something more like a youth hostel than a hotel. It catered to hikers, who look for an inexpensive place to sleep, but we were off season and so the accommodation was sparsely inhabited and quiet. Nevertheless, I can assure the reader that there was nothing glamorous about it.

Castell Deudraeth

We settled and then drove to Portmeirion for supper at the Castell Deudraeth, notable for a rather “know-how” chef. This being said and while the interior of the restaurant was first class, five star dining, the food wasn’t spectacular and we were disappointed at the price. For us, the only “spiff” we look forward to in our travels is jointly discovering memorable cuisine. This was not one of those occasions.

We were scheduled  to arrive in Colwyn Bay at our friends the Usserys’ place at four on the next day and with a good deal of driving ahead of us, I jumped to my feet early and ran out with my camera before the sun had pulled itself over the hills to the east. I waited for an hour with camera in hand but in so doing captured some beautiful shots of the town where some of the movie, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness” (the story of missionary to China, Gladys Aylward) had been filmed, starring Ingrid Bergman.

Off we went through more of Snowdonia in North Wales. Having a little time before going to the Ussery’s we went over the bridge to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch… located on the isle called Anglesey, where Prince William and Kate live. Yes, that’s right, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, otherwise known as, “Saint Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near to the Rapid Whirlpool of  Llantysilio of the Red Cave.” Lovely. It would be hard to miss, wouldn’t it? Since time was short, we headed on down the road towards Nate and Ali’s and didn’t get to explore the rest of the island.

Trekking through Snowdonia National Park of Wales

Out of our window

I wanted to get on the road, thinking that it might take more time than it did to reach Wales. We briskly swung up the M4, around and then across the Bristol Channel. Turning up the A449 we went off for the night at Ragland and found the Beaufort Inn. Jeanne loved the room with a nice view of a church out the window. After settling in we went downstairs to the dining room for supper.

The night that followed proved to be interesting. The lovely room turned out to be a challenge. Somehow the room tilted from foot to head. So, what looked like a good night’s sleep left us feeling like drunken sailors. In the morning we both awoke with the same complaint, “Didn’t you feel like you were sleeping upside down?” As we investigated we found that repairs had been made to the floor but it did slant at the foot. When we asked about it, we were given an explanation that this was a historical building and there were certain things they were not allowed to change when they remodeled the hotel. One of those things was the curvature of the floor. The floor curves.

It just isn’t so anymore!

A BREAK(fast) from the standard fare

There was a time when one would be hard pressed to find a decent meal from any kitchen in England, but that isn’t at all true anymore. Though good food might be more costly than in the United States, one can have some of the grandest meals they’ve ever eaten when they visit in the UK. At least this is my opinion. I am not talking about Fish ‘n Chips, Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s or Kidney Pie. We sat down in the dining room at the Beaufort next to a couple just about our ages. It was her birthday and they had come back to where they had grown up and met to celebrate. In fact, the fellow told us that he had worked in this very hotel as a lad in the days when it was rundown. He never thought to see the day when the hotel would be restored to its original style. They recommended several dishes, and we ordered up. He promised we wouldn’t be disappointed and we weren’t.

In the morning we joined them for breakfast (which is always included in the room price) and for the first time, there was something beyond the “Full English Breakfast”! After four in a row, Jeanne leapt on the yogurt, fresh fruit, and berries. I took her lead and gave it a try as well.

After packing we drove out and made our way across the southern half of Snowdonia, taking pictures of the  beautiful countryside and stopping at the occasional tea room in a small village here or there. I say it in this way because there were many marvelous photo ops we passed up  simply due to the fact there was no safe place to pull off the road. In fact, it was along one of these narrow roads that I entered a bridge at the same time as a semi trailer truck, going at about sixty miles per hour. I had no choice but to drive onto the sidewalk at my left. He didn’t so much as bat an eye.

Enjoy the picture that we did manage to get.

Karen’s idea of “something light.”

Karen is not known for going off half cocked…. 

After all, it was mostly vegetables.

A person would be hard pressed to match this blueberry pie.

When we arrived at their home in the Kanata area, Rob stepped off his porch to warn us about the barking dogs that would signal our arrival for supper. Rob and Karen have three very cute Chihuahuas who ferociously try to protect the Sargent home from the confines of their cages in the living room. The little brown one soon joined us, proving by his sweet face and desire to lick my hand that he posed little real threat. Rob and Karen love animals it seems (also having in their kitchen a beautiful gray African

Carrie

parrot with an amusing way of talking) and have passed on their love to their oldest daughter Carrie. Now 22, she works at a nearby horse farm, cheerfully shoveling and cleaning up after them, riding, and teaching others how to ride as well. Coming in from work just shortly before we were leaving, Carrie is just as beautiful and sweet as we remembered her from so many years ago when we were serving as pastors at Chapel Ridge. Carrie’s younger sister, Katy (whom we didn’t get to see except in pictures) is working part time at Starbucks and also plays bass guitar in a band. She adopted her parents’ love of music it seems.

Karen, Rob and Graycee

When we were at Chapel Ridge, I worked with Rob and Karen on the worship team. It was such a joy to see them share their musical gifts and talents with the church. I appreciated how graciously they put up with my lack of musical training as I led the team. Karen was also very involved in children’s ministry at that time. I’m glad to report that they are both still involved in worship at another church in the area. Karen is currently teaching a large number of piano students from her home and especially enjoys teaching them how to play Christian worship songs.

After enjoying a wonderfully fresh and filling meal of salads, homemade dill bread, and grilled chicken, we caught up with each other’s lives before enjoying one of Karen’s amazing homemade pies – blueberry this time, which is one of my favorites. Served with generous amounts of whipped cream, it was delightful. Thanks to Katy (who supplied the Starbucks flavors), we also had a special fruit iced tea during our meal… Passion Fruit I believe it was called. The best part of the evening, though, was sharing our prayer requests and our spiritual passions with one another. After a sweet time of prayer in the Lord’s presence, we called it a night. Even the dogs seemed content as we said our good-byes.

I am not really Ben Peterkins’ grandfather

My pastel portrait of Ben

We have spent so much time with Mark and Tracy Peterkins, they turn out to be like our adopted children. Hence, their three children, Stephen, Ben and Megan have wound up calling me “Grandpa Tony” and Jeanne, they call “Aunt Jeanne”. They love us both the same but have been taught to be rude to me by calling me an older title than my younger looking wife. It is a fond form of insult they learned from their father. We are neither. Officially, I am not their grandfather and Jeanne is not their aunt, but we are happy to be treated that way. For us, visiting the Peterkins’ would be like dropping in on any of our children and their families.

Two years ago I was here in Ottawa for the purpose of celebrating the older brother’s Christian  “bar mitzvah” (a small coming of age party).

Showing no preference, we timed our visit to coincide with this special event and set aside Monday, August twenty-second for this very purpose. The idea was quite similar to the earlier one. As he did for Stephen, Mark invited both Pastor Ken Roth and I to take part in and pray a blessing over young Ben. Additionally, we were joined by Ben’s real, flesh and blood grandfather, Ed Dooner.

It all started at four in the afternoon as I waited in my car along Riverside Drive. It was Mark’s idea to bring Ben out to the Dooner family cottage that has sat on the bank of the Rideau River for at least seventy years. This is all meant to be a surprise, so when Mark turned the corner and onto the side road where I sat waiting, young Ben seemed slightly mystified by this turn of events. He was especially puzzled when his dad instructed him to get out of the van and take a walk with me. Though he was a little apprehensive, I bought his courage by giving him a brand new, commemorative “Buck” knife (something he has always wanted) that I had bought for him a few days before. He suddenly liked the idea of walking down a bleak country road with an old man. I made certain we had the compulsory and rather serious advisory conversation on the way, and though I didn’t quote Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” I shared some of the contents along with a complete exegete of  1st Corinthians 11:6 (actually 13:11), including a precise Greek translation of each word : ). Frankly, it was a pretty simple talk that could be summed up by the phrase, “Don’t be stupid.” This concept, he thoroughly understood. The rest of what I said will likely fade from his memory in a very short time.

The Dooner Cottage

Ken would be waiting with a ready canoe, where he would take Ben on a similar tour. Please note that Ken was given the more dangerous of the two chat events. I am well-known to have virtually no center of gravity and both Mark and Ken intended for Ben’s first day of manhood to not be his last as well.

Art Shot, Mark Peterkins

While I am happy to take part in this special occasion, I have a  compelling end in view when Mark makes some colossal meal to punctuate the festivities. I was not disappointed, as he offered up shrimp and sauce, hummus, rice crackers, baguette,  grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon, fried mushrooms, sauce, potatoes, fresh green beans, corn on the cob and more stuff that becomes a blur.

Art Shot, Ken Roth

 

After all of the eating we celebrated by various presentations, including a sword with a blade big enough to kill Goliath if necessary. As a last act we all gathered around Ben, laid hands on him and prayed for him that he will become a man of spiritual valor.

Ken and Ed deep in conversation

 Some might see this as a rather silly way to spend a day, but I think not. Almost all religions other than evangelical Christianity have what they might call “Rites of Passage.” I believe that symbols of this nature, especially where fathers pass a spiritual blessing on to their children, make unforgettable impressions that last for a life time. It is my guess that we don’t do enough of this sort of community event and leave our youngsters to pick their way through the faith on their own. I believe this almost picture perfect day will stick with Ben as long as he lives.