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 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 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 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 38

These shoes have taken me thousands of miles. Today the soles fell off and I had to let them go. They proved to be reliable friends along the way.

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Slovenia, the Balkans, Norway and Italy

April 22 to June 10, 2014

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Isaiah 52:7

How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”