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 / Entry 5 / Milano to Ljubljana

Friday, April 25, 2014

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES…

Note: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy are much larger than protestant evangelicals. Perhaps only Islam and Occultism is larger.

I am now in Ljubljana and it took most of the day by train and car from Milan. As I arrived at the Milan train station early I had about forty minutes to engage the three Jehovah’s Witnesses at their Watchtower stand. I can only say it was not a good day for the JW’s. In fact, and this has never happened before, I countered everything so well that when I looked at what appeared to a “Newby” who had been intensely listening and told her to “get out now – it is a mind control cult”, she handed her magazines to the spokesperson and walked away. Perhaps she was late for work but by the way she listened, I don’t think so.

JEWISH COUPLE…


It didn’t end there. By divine providence a fair haired young man and his wife (I think his wife but who can tell anymore) spoke to me in Italian and took the reserved seats next to me. They turned out to be Israeli’s living in Milan. Now how do you think this ride went??? They got off at Padua and I went on to Mestre but I had a good time teaching Judaism to my Jewish friends. Pray for Nir and Inbal.

Trip 38 / Entry 3 / Milan, Italy

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LionelIt didn’t go as I had hoped. Once and a while jet-lag will really leave me spinning. Arriving at Malpensa Airport at 7:30 in the morning, I took my own advice and tried to stay up all day until a reasonable time to go to bed. This should allow me to get onto the Italian clock.  I checked at my hotel by 10:30 but since my room wasn’t ready, I left my case and took to the street. I kept my eyes pried open by going for walks, drinking coffee, having gelato and eating supper.

At nine I turned in but to no avail. It was three in the afternoon, Charlotte time. I tossed, I turned, opened the balcony door, closed the balcony door and took benedryl but my mind raced. I suddenly felt completely isolated and even worse – stupid. Why am I doing this?  I could be in my own room at home. This bed is hard, the room small and the streets are loud. This isn’t a new experience for me but no many times you go through it, it never gets better. I should know the drill by now. I have often had moments of regret and anxiety.

Around one in the morning Italian time, I made the decision to call Jeanne and get her in my corner. She answered, we talked, she prayed, I hung up, put on my clothes and went down to the small lobby.

I had seen him earlier. Even in the brief encounter I recognized this young Filipino to be a believer so I asked him. Lionel was as bright as a penny while answering my question. He had been converted in Milan about two years before and attends the “Jesus is Lord” church, a largely Filipino congregation of some seven hundred people. The fellowship proved to be just the shot in the arm Io needed and an answer to prayer.

I realized that I had heard of this church before from Filipino friends that attend Smyra Bible Institute in Norway where I teach. As I mentioned one of the Filipino student’s names he looked it up on Facebook to discover that while Lhyn (yep, with an “h”) was in Norway and he in Milan, they had between them forty-eight mutual friends.

With this nice visit (better than benedryl) I went to my bed and fell asleep. I felt assured that all was well and that the morning would look different.

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.

IMG_2066

Slovenia, the Balkans, Norway and Italy

April 22 to June 10, 2014

_________________________________________________

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!”

North Street Band become “buskers” in Parma, Italy…

Francesco had this idea that we should go out on the street, where the people were, do some music and then hand-out invitations to the Friday night concert. To be honest, we weren’t too sure about this. I had my doubts because when I have tried to hand out invites or tracts, I have been thoroughly turned aside. I think this partly has to do with my being a foreigner and people thinking that, something I might give them would be in English and therefore irrelevant. Nevertheless, since we are guests and committed to supporting the ground team, we decided to try it. At two in the afternoon on Thursday we met on Via Farini, an area where many small cafes reach off of the curb and into the streets under large canopies of umbrellas. Usually at lunch (12:30 to 3:30) hundreds of young Italians sit and stand having their glass of wine, beer along with a Panini or slice of pizza. Regrettably, on this day it was unusually quiet with less than thirty percent of what might normally be expected. In spite of this discouragement, Fred, Joel and Asher struck up the Johnny Cash tune, “Grey Stone Chapel” which arrested people in mid- bite or mid-sip. No one expected to hear what they were getting. While the band went from song to song we (Dave Tysoe, the drummer and I) as well as others handed out invitations to Friday nights’ concert at Teatro Toscanini.

Usually, almost all street ministry is unproductive and often counter-productive accomplishing the opposite of what you hope for. In this instance, this was not the case with people eagerly taking our invitational cards. On several occasions I had conversations with English speakers who expressed their appreciation for the sound and skill. When I told them what we were up to, several said they’d come and many of those promises were fulfilled. About fifteen people at the concert were people we met on Farini and Cavour Streets in the center of Parma. Poor Asher had to drag a double-  base from place to place but it proved to be well worth the effort.

Here, I would like to re-iterate what I have said in other places. In all of my years of street ministry in Italy, this was undoubtedly the best reception I have ever had.

Let me give a little final advice at this point. This would not have been nearly as successful with about ninety percent apparently expressing approval if the band had been less than terrific. This is one of the problems with American style street evangelism (mimes and music) in Italy and Europe. Americans do not yet understand that Europeans are culturally sophisticated and will not tolerate mimes that feature tee-shirts turned inside out as costumes and card board boxes with hearts painted on the side as props.

As important as the audience and message might be, we must buy credibility by doing our best at what we do. Any audience must have some reason to listen to us share our story. Europeans are suspicious of the Church, “Christianity” and religion. They come into the conversation already having a bad taste in their mouths. Creating confidence is the big challenge and few will care about the message unless the messenger is credible.

North Street Band arrives in England

Arriving at Gatwick

Arriving at Gatwick

If you’ve kept up with my blogs you will have, by now, heard of North Street Band from Perth, Ontario and my plans to bring them over for concerts in England, Italy and Slovenia. Planning and fund-raising for this took the better part of a year, so we were excited to see how things might unfold after all of the dreaming and preparation.

Pastor John and Daniel showed up at Gatwick to meet us while we waited together for the five to show up. We carefully watched people come and go until after an hour, out of the doors they came. For the young guys, this was their first international trip so they were “eyes wide open.”

After greeting and loading the mini-bus, off we went to Eltham where we would be serving Eltham Green Community Church for the next week.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 458

They took a day or so to bounce back from jet lag and then it was concert time. They performed three times. First, they performed in the open air on High Street with many of us handing out invitations to the concert on Friday night and Worship Party at the church on Sunday morning.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 460Eltham is tough ground. The community is riddled with social dysfunction. Many children come from broken, abusive homes. Some leave home early so there are many teenage mothers and girls living on social assistance. Public drunkenness is rampant.  Drop out rates are high and large numbers of young people are involved in delinquent activities. It is within the context of this chaos that Eltham Community Church tries to make a difference.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 541North Street went ahead as best they could and though attendance at the events were not as high as we had hoped, the band was well received everywhere they played.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 470

A performance hall was rented for Friday night . It was cold and raining when the band finally took the stage. This turned out to be a good event seeing that so many in the church had no idea of who the band was or the music they played.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 675

UK 09-06 to )9-25 673The church on Sunday morning was packed where the band played a worship concert and I preached the gospel.

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.

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.