Trip 38 / Entry 37 / Meat in the heat

Sunday, June 8, 2014

 

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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 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 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.

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.

Trip to Cotswold gets cut short

On the way to Burford

The next morning, after another “Full English Breakfast” in Banbury, Jeanne and I packed for an exciting trip in to the Peaks District and Cotswold Country,  a region with old English, Beatrix Potter charm.  For a time, for a few hours in the morning, this was what we enjoyed.  We went by lovely private estates lined by thatched roofed, immaculately tailored, beige stone homes. Once we came to the village of Burford, near other towns with names like Chipping Norton and Shipston on Stour, we got out to take in the picture-book beauty.

The Cotswold Arms

We enjoyed a cup of tea and sweet rolls, then Jeanne went to the car while I took about half an hour to snap a few pictures. This is when the bad news came. A fellow came walking down the hill, looked suspiciously at our car, and then gained Jeanne’s attention to tell her that it appeared that we had a bubble on our tire, a potential for a blow-out. He gravely suggested that we should have it looked at, since a member of his own family had recently suffered a blow out on the highway from the same thing. When I returned to the car, Jeanne relayed the message. I shrugged my shoulders, nonchalantly pulled on out to go to the next village, and then I began to think that it would be best to have this attended to in a more populated area.  I coasted into a safe spot at an intersection along a narrow road and took a look for myself. “Yep, I have a problem,” I decided, so I called Avis. This was where the real problem began. The plans for this day had to be shelved while we attended to this automotive distraction. After a rather annoying series of  calls to the Avis Roadside Assistance Team, I was told that if they came to help I would be charged about two-hundred thirty pounds or more than $350. So I decided to drive to the Avis location in Oxford, some thirty minutes to the southeast, and hopefully visit Cotswold on some other day.