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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

From Colwyn Bay to Preston and on to The Lake District

Before we made to beautiful Kirby-Lonsdale,  we experienced another miracle. We had no GPS (too expensive) so we relied on prayer and luck. We can’t be sure which played the bigger part but by “hook or crook” we wound up in the lap of where we needed to be. Over email and  the phone I had connected with old friend, S.V. His security requirements will not allow me to mention his name or where he works. I can say, however, that he is a chaplain in a prison. S came into our lives thirty years ago when he took an interest in our son Sky during a very difficult period of Sky’s life (and subsequently our lives as well).

S met Sky when he was about fourteen years of age. S was a counselor at hockey camp. When Sky returned home he continued to talk about S and what a neat guy he was. S stayed up with Sky by calling and writing notes of encouragement. Even though Sky went through a very dark time he never forgot S.  Later, after Sky came to the Lord, he found S on Facebook and reconnected, finding out he was now situated in England. We owed him a big thank you and wanted to stop around to see him in the Liverpool area.

Finding the Starbucks in the center of Preston was no easy task, but we didn’t miss it by far first time around. Racing through the mall to meet him at one o’clock, we looked through the window to see his big frame straddling a small chair next to a little round table. He looked up and immediately flashed his big smile. S is one of the cheeriest guys I have ever met. He always has praise for God upon his lips. With hugs we gathered around the table telling our life stories. Jeanne ordered up a little pastry called “Eccles Cake” (recommended by the son-in-law). After a visit that was entirely too brief, we (without a GPS) made our way back on to the highway on the way to Kendal. After a brief look at Kendal  we went on to one of the most beautiful villages in The Lake District, Kirby-Lonsdale.

Once you get around Liverpool and if you drive in the proper lane at the proper speed you will finally make it to “The Lake District” without the sound of horns honking and people giving you dirty gestures. I finally figured out the rules and you will too.

On to Susy and Jame’s near Totnes in Devon…

Stopping at pretty spots along the way to Totnes

Trust me, you can miss the turn off and find yourself miles from where you intend to be. It all looked so easy, but we did go about twenty miles too far, parked the van, found her cell number but, guess what? My cell phone was about out of battery and I was left with time for one desperate call. If I missed, I would be on my own trying to find Susy who lives in the country. I had been warned ahead of time that I would likely need her help to come and meet me. I suddenly felt like I was on the Apollo 13 space shuttle and running out of vital support systems and, in my case daylight, very quickly.

Totnes, finally

I made the call and connected long enough to be told what to do and where to go. She would come and meet us there in about forty-five minutes. We fumbled our way back to the main highway, found the right turn-off, and finally made it to Totnes with time to spare. Along she came and after exchanging hugs and “howdies” we got in behind her and followed her some ten miles along a very narrow road to their small farm. As soon as we arrived we were hustled off to a neighborhood barbecue  across two fields dotted with manure droppings and Suffolk / Hampshire blended sheep.

Susy and Jame’s place

We met a lovely and welcoming group of folks who made us a nice supper on the grill. After a good visit, we retired with Sunday on tap. James would go up to the village church and the rest of us would get ready for a trip to an elegant historical home, Dartington Hall.

Dartington Hall

James, Susy, Jeanne and me…

From there we would all go together for fish and chips along the coast in the village of Brixham, where our daughter-in law Noemi’s sister Elizabeth and her husband live.  There we would part company with Suzy and James, who would head back to Totnes, while Jeanne and I would travel in the opposite direction, along the sea. We would spend our second day on the road in Plymouth.

Entry 29 / Posh

Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano

On Sunday morning I took to the pulpit again and faced a full house of  nearly 180 people. Following the altar call I gave an invitation to which twenty people responded. Many were asked to help by praying with the seekers and Jeanne, who is quite good at this sort of thing, got an interpreter and prayed for several who came forward.

The Villa

Thomas and Marcela (Cassandro) McEvoy 

Thomas and Marcela

On occasion I am asked to participate in a wedding. I never quite have the clothes for such things and have to borrow this thing or that in order to make myself look halfway presentable as Italian and African weddings are quite extravagant affairs. Having been surprised with wedding invitations at other times, I have left hanging in Aldo’s closet a few items, like a gray pair of slacks and a tie. This time I had to borrow a royal blue jacket which I kept unbuttoned for rather obvious reasons. Italians are not as “portly” (the polite word) as I am.

Under the Cedar of Lebanon

At four in the afternoon we arrived at a gorgeous villa where an hour later a beautiful Columbian-Italian girl would be married to an Irish fellow. This happens quite often as the Italians and Irish have some attraction and affinity for one another.

I have known Marcela for a number of years but am more acquainted with her parents, Luciano and Marilene, since Marcela has been living and working in London for several years.

I knew that this would be a big deal and felt privileged to be asked to speak, knowing that half of the congregation on that sunny afternoon would be either unbelievers or religious but not necessarily Christians. I was sure that most would simply want my part to be over with rather quickly so we could have the wedding vows and get on to the reception. Yet, I saw this as a splendid opportunity. Having been given about fifteen to twenty minutes with translation, I couldn’t say much. Still, when it was my turn I took high ground, speaking on the “Mystery of Marriage” from Ephesians 5. I relied on two metaphors, the body and the bride, and wrapped a clear presentation of the gospel in, around, and through it. All the while I was speaking, I could sense that the message was being well received and hitting its mark. At the end of the proceedings I had many new friends with invitations to England and Rome. Tom and Marcela’s friends are all very warm and open-hearted.

   

The surroundings were lovely, with the vows being exchanged under a two-hundred-year-old Cedar of Lebanon that stretched over the entire gathering, providing a cool shade in a rather warm day. Later there were a number of food and drink tents with the finest in Parmesan cuisine. Though I wasn’t able to stay for the dinner and other festivities that ran long into the night, I was told that the reception dinner was the best one could hope for, laden with local cuisine.

Pastors Aldo and Mariela Cerasino and daughter Rebecca

While I was attending this affair Jeanne stayed back at the Cerasino’s getting some rest and packing us up for our trip back to Oslo on Monday morning.

Entry 28 / Collecchio, Italy

Michela, Anna and Jeanne

After at least eight or more years in the same city I have accumulated a lot of friends. It is rumoured that it is not until you are invited into an Italian home are you really considered a friend and not and simply an acquaintance.

Anna, her husband Stefano and daughter Michela are friends for several years now and not only mine but friends of my children Amy, John and their kids as well. On Saturday afternoon we were picked up in Corcagnano and taken some ten minutes to the south here they live on the edge of the Apinnine mountains which separates the Po Valley from Florence and Tuscany.

Inside Torrechiara

We enjoyed the lunch and then went further into the mountains to visit Torrechiara, one of the best preserved castles in all of Italy.

Entry 27 / Wish we had a picture

Love is a difficult thing to photograph

Sometimes we are privileged to get to see Bible stories come to life for us. In Italy, Tony and I were taken by our friend Francesco to see his family doctor in a suburb of Parma. She is a Christian doctor who warmly welcomed us in Italian and carried out her examination while Francesco and Mariela translated. For about two weeks prior, I had been experiencing symptoms related to inflammation in my lungs – coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath that always grew worse at night. As the doctor checked everything out, I was struck by her compassion and concern for me. She spent at least an hour with me and decided to give me a cortisone shot as well as two new prescriptions to try to alleviate some of my discomfort. As we were leaving we tried to pay her, but she refused. She said she wanted to bless us in Jesus’ name and would not hear of payment for her services. We reluctantly put our money away and headed out the door to take the prescriptions to the pharmacy to fill. Only after we drove away did we discover that she had put in enough cash in the envelope with the prescriptions to pay for them. In fact, we had money left over after they were filled! Our “Good Samaritan” doctor proved in such a practical way how God is looking after us on our trip and how He uses His body to minister to one another in Christian love. Once Tony and I got back from our side trip to Monterosso to celebrate our anniversary, I had to return to this same doctor to be checked again. Since my lungs had not improved, she gave me another cortisone shot and started me on some antibiotics. Again, no payment for the office call, and she provided the cash for my new prescriptions. It all seemed too much, too extravagant, according to worldly standards. But she saw it as a chance to lavish her love for Jesus on one of His own. How could we refuse her that joy? Others in Italy poured out their time and energy and resources on us while we were there … we especially thank Aldo and Mariela, Francesco and Alessia, Anna and Stefano. For them and for our Good Samaritan doctor, may they be encouraged by this Scripture: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

Entry 25 / Jeanne and the Torta Fritta Party

The Parmesean Countryside

One of the highlights for me in Italy was the opportunity to speak to a group of women from the church one beautiful Sunday afternoon. There were a few non-believers too who came as guests. We gathered at a country home that offers meals in a lovely outdoor setting. We looked out on green fields and cows grazing not far away. In the distance we could see the outline of the mountains just south of Parma. They sang a few songs and prayed before Mariela invited me to speak. My friend Alessia served as my translator.

If you’ve never spoken in a situation requiring translation, let me tell you, it’s a challenge. You have to know how long to make each phrase to enable the translator to catch up with you, as well as keep the next thought you want to say in mind as you wait your turn. You have no way of knowing how you are being received, because there is no reaction to what you say in English. The experience helped me better appreciate what missionaries and foreign speakers face when invited into another culture to share the Gospel!

My topic was “Knowing God” and I began by sharing how, from a small child, I had always wanted to know God, but couldn’t figure out how to find Him. I thought if I was a really “good girl” – went to church, obeyed my parents, pleased my teachers and other authority figures, etc. – I would earn His approval. But it was through the difficulties that later came into my life that I finally understood that I was a sinner, and it was through my need for a Savior that I finally came to know God. Only when I was willing to humble myself and admit that I could not be good by my own efforts was I ready and able to know Him.

Some were very touched by the circumstances I shared from my life that helped me see my sinful heart. I stressed the importance of being real and authentic in our relationship with God and how we can live in freedom through His grace. When they were given the opportunity to ask questions afterwards, many were hungry to know more. After my talk, we all enjoyed torta fritta (a special Italian treat) and different kinds of cake while chatting at our tables. I appreciated the women who used the little English they knew to try to converse with me. I walked away feeling very tired but also very blessed by the experience.

Entry 23 / Worship Party, Parma, Italy

Arrival in Italy

We arrived in Parma on Wednesday evening from Norway and the Milan Bergamo airport. Since Jeanne had not been feeling well we slowed down our pace knowing that the weekend would be packed with events. On Thursday we did some house keeping. We did our laundry and went to Parma for a short time just to see the city again. This was pretty much our first and last venture to the city center during the entire time we were there.

Worship Party

Some of the faces at the Worship Party

When it came Saturday, the entire day was given to getting ready for a major outreach. The young people (ranging in ages from 13 to 25) put together drama, music, video testimonies and had gone around inviting their friends.

Recognition and appreciation of the youth led Worship Party

The event had been scheduled for eight in the evening but it was quite latin to see the clock on the screen countdown from five minutes only to be started over when it reached eight pm. This happened three times so at twenty past eight, Jeanne and I wondered if countdown clocks really mattered. No doubt, someone had picked this idea up from an American church where things do start on time. When I later brought this up someone defensively said, “We were all ready but the crowd had not come yet.” By 8:20 we began with every seat filled and at least two-hundred in attendance. More than half of those had never been in the church before. In about an hour and half of cute and clever presentations, I was asked to deliver a message and though we gave no altar call or opportunity for a response, it was clear that the message had impact. I spoke on, “The Core Idea.” Basically, the idea was substitutionary atonement and since “atonement” is difficult to explain we went with “adequate payment which satisfies”. With lots of windows (illustrations), people seemed to get it.