Trip 38 / Entry 17 / Ljubljana, Slovenia

Friday, May 9, 2014

NOVE SLIKE Guys

I went to pick-up my wash at the laundry some four blocks away from my hotel. I know that my wash in Slovenia will cost half what it will cost in Norway. I picked it up just before five in the evening and thought, “Ya, know, I’ve never been up that street?” The wide thoroughfare goes north toward the train station. This street, like most others is lined by small coffee bars. As I past by the first two they sat empty but next was a cafe with a number of people talking and having coffee or a beer. On purpose I sat down next to two tables each with three people. The one right beside me had a young Canadian who, when he he heard me order in English, asked where I was from. He was leaving that very day back to Canada after a semester of university. On the opposite side of his table were two Russian girls that understood some Slovene but almost no English. Somehow, my table and the other two began a casual three way conversation. At the other, in the corner, were three thirty year old young men. It seemed to me that they might be here the longest so best to invest in that table rather than the Canadian who would soon be on his way to the train.

I took out my ballpoint pen and on the back side of the drink menu I drew one of the young men. Once I finished it, I took it over and handed it to him . Immediate surprise and approval came over him as he showed it around the table. One of the fellows said, “Who are you? What do you do in Slovenia (uh, oh) and would you like a drink? Why don’t you join us here at our table?” Within minutes we are battling over evolution, comparative religion and moral law. I am winning. They are all three bright and university educated.  One claimed to be an atheist, and two others were born Catholic but not practicing.  They demonstrated a clear approval of my positions on a variety of theistic arguments. As I went toward sin, judgment, atonement grace and the person / purpose of Christ, I had them and their friendship. They all said, “No one here talks like this. We need this kind of serious conversation”

After two hours of this banter, I invited them to come with me to the hotel where I would buy them books in Slovene. They were primed and ready. At the hotel I gave them copies of Timothy Keller’s, “The Reason for God” and “God’s Undertaker, Has Science Buried Religion?”  (this is where fifty euro your money goes) at the same time I was able to introduce them to my friend Sergeja and have a photograph taken. I do hope we will meet again. Rarely have I seen anyone get this far with intellectuals in this length of time. I certainly never have. Is there a shift in the wind?

Stupid me!

Kevin

Kevin

Here’s some helpful advice. It was murder trying to find a low-cost flight from Ljubljana to Oslo or thereabouts on the day I needed it. I felt a little stuck. Either I would pay a huge sum of money for a rather direct flight or travel some distance to locate a cheaper plane. Pastor Chris thought it made the most sense to just bite the bullet and take Berlin Air or some such a carrier at about five hundred and forty euro. This seemed exorbitant to me so I had Chris drive me across Slovenia to Trieste, Italy where I caught a five-hour train to Bergamo, Italy, caught another bus, took a hotel, had my supper and then flew to Torp the next morning on Ryan Air. Yes, the Ryan Air flight was around a hundred euro but if I add up the inconvenience, time, transportation, meals and hotel, it just made, in retrospect, a lot more sense to just pay the big bucks and be done with it. In all, it took more than fifteen hours of travel to get from Murska Sobota, Slovenia to Torp, Norway.

My friend Kevin came along with me and parted company with him going on to Parma from Mestre while I went on another train to north of Milano.

SBINorway 10-6 to 10-14 001

I boarded the flight and before settling into my seat I noticed the young man next to me reading Sam Harris’, “The Death of Faith.” I am well aware of Sam Harris, a very aggressive and vitriolic anti-Theist. It surprised me to see a young man of this age intensely reading such a book for his entertainment. I quickly leaned over and asked him, “Are you an Atheist?” Proudly, he replied in the affirmative. He asked if I was to which I told him no and that I was his polar opposite. I then wanted to know if he was an “intellectual” or a “moral” Atheist. He didn’t get what I was driving at so this gave me opportunity to engage him in a two-hour conversation. We ended as friends. Let me just say here, this fellow knows more about the Bible and what he believes than any combined ten young Christians I know of.

Overhearing the gospel…

At the end of the flight, when I returned to my seat an older Norwegian couple seated next to me wanted to know who I was and was complimentary regarding some of the questions posed and answers given the young man.

It occurs to me that in forty-five years of adult life rarely, if ever, has anyone ever shared the gospel with me. It is my guess that almost no one tells anyone about Jesus and that’s a fact. It’s a wonder to me that anyone ever gets saved at all.

To the Austrian border and Gypsy villages…

Kevin at the Yamaha

I decided to take Kevin Ferriera, a Brazilian-Italian and up and coming young musician. Kevin had bonded with the band so I brought him along from Parma and Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano. I thought it might be good for him to explore both music and missions so this set me back a few euros it struck me as the right thing to do though it squeezed us into Chris’ church van just a little tighter it turns out to be worth the extra baggage. Kevin is impossible to inconvenience and went along as one of the gang.

This morning we took our time getting around as most of the band was dragging after a long night of performing. By 11 we were loaded with a car stuffed with instruments and the van with people. In three hours we were in Murska Subota and sorting out our beds on the top floor of the church. At four we were expected to make our way about forty kilometers to Gypsy villages in the country.

A smattering of us and them.

Tjonska has worked with these villages for ten years and has established wonderful relationships with the families and children. In the last while, some of the Roma people have come to Christ. They, of course, welcomed us with open arms. Upon arriving I noticed a tent pitched in the middle of a small lot with young people milling around and children inside. There Tjonska was leading them in children’s songs – tunes that I recognized. This reminded me so much of my childhood when my parents would take me along as they ministered to native people in Kansas. In fact, it seemed to me that there wasn’t all much difference between the lifestyles of the two groups. Nomadic peoples are often similar.

I didn’t give this a try.

While the band set up I walked around to see several cooking pig skins on an open fire. Others were roasting chestnuts, a fall delicacy. I have eating french-fried pig skins before but this was different. These were still quite rubbery. I make it a point to eat anything that is offered to me but I felt like an Albanian on an Italian train. They attempt to ride the trains for free so they are always moving about attempting to avoid the conductor. I did the same with grilled pig flesh. When I saw a new plate arriving I made myself scarce. Honestly, this was not even enjoyable to observe people as they gnawed away and seemed to get nowhere. I have no idea how this item carries with it any appeal.

Nevertheless, this all being said, the event went well and once the band began to plan the young people, though standing a fair distance, listened carefully. The older men rarely if ever take part and delegate this religion business to the women and children but in time, they too warmed up with some entering the tent, clapping along and at the end taking New Testaments home.

One of the guys remarked that this was better than many places we play because it seemed that the Gypsies indicated they were being treated to something special. In many big cities, the band was just another band and taken for granted but rarely, if ever, does a band of this caliber venture into a Gypsy settlement as a gift from one group to another. They seemed to appreciate and we stayed longer than expected taking photographs and playing tag with the kids.

Here’s a funny note in passing. Here we were in the middle of nowhere. We can almost never get internet in our hotels but we were told, “Just turn on your Wi-Fi.” Sure enough, the world at our finger tips and with five bars. The guys also mentioned that they would like to have the sound system but would not resort to stealing these, first class JBL speakers.

Slovenia: The 14th least evangelized nation in the world.

Imagine: a nation of two million people with about 1,000 Bible believing Christians?

You can’t see Rosie but she’s there.

We have just arrived here last evening after a rather long ride from Parma, stopping off for the Canadian’s to visit Venice if only for a couple of hours. We pulled into the church parking lot at six and then set about to getting our sleeping arranged.

The main piazza at night

All churches should somehow include rooms for visitors. When I come here, I never have to pay for accommodation and this is a big help to missionaries and traveling teams like the one I have with me now. This upstairs of the church has a large library filled with books (mostly English) where I made my bed with a mattress on the floor. Fred and Rose are in the “prophet’s chamber” (the room where I usually stay). It is a big room with a queen size bed, couch and small table and its own bathroom with private shower. Three of the guys are in a large room that could handle five under dorm like accommodation. We have stuck one of the fellows (the one with insomnia) in a small office space where he can read in the middle of the night if he wants to. In all, the facility has four bathrooms and two showers a kitchen, dining room and an area that seats about ninety people for a sanctuary on Sunday. This is not, by American standards, a big building – it just happens to be a well-designed building. In spite of this use of space there is still room for Chris and one other to share an office.

            

Chris has a dream to build a massive church – ministry center on this same location and has already set out to raise the 1.5 millions euros it will take to make the evangelical church visible. The pastor and his wife have a lot planned for North Street Band so I suspect it will be a good idea if they get a good sleep tonight because Thursday they will begin five days of non-stop ministry. After playing in the main cafe in the center of the city, we will drive to Murska Subota on the Austrian-Hungarian border, play for a Gypsy village, do concerts in the city center, go and hour south to Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor have two concerts then back to Ljubljana, play on the street and on Sunday do a concert in the parking lot of the church. Then one more time they will play in the center of the city.

All of this is pretty exciting for a ministry team of five from Perth, Ontario.

This post might bore you…

A little, “Same ole’, Same ole'”…

I almost always preach somewhere on Sundays and Ljubljana is no exception. Of course, if you have followed my blogs, photographs of me standing in a pulpit aren’t very exciting.

A friend of mine makes a funny joke regarding itinerant ministry. It is more difficult to be a pastor and have to, every Sunday come up with a fresh message that people will come back for again and again. When he switched from being a pastor to being a traveling preacher he said that he suddenly realized he only needed three good sermons and a fast car.

While meant to be humorous this is partly true. Before I go on a trip the Lord seems to “download” a certain message and when I have preached it out, I hardly go back to it ever again. Lately, he has given me a message that I call, “The Exceptionality of Man.” Frankly, it can be a little complicated for a foreign audience and a lot has to do with translation. On this occasion Sabina stayed up with me as did the audience. When we got to the end I offered a tract in conclusion. I held up three of them asking if anyone would like to know more about what it means to be a Christian. Surprisingly, I gave all of them away in about two minutes and had to go get about six more. I never know what to make of this kind of response. In reality, here in this part of the world the seed often “falls on hard soil” and immediately the birds come and it up and devour it.

However, this being said, I am always surprised at what I see each time as I return. There are always gains being made. For instance, Bojan is radically committed to the Lord while he wasn’t a believer last year. He became a Christian with one brief conversation on my part but his girlfriend and others had shared with him for months prior to his conversion.

The church continues to grow both deep and out. They are now setting their sights on building a 1.5 million euro building on their present location. This is a very ambition dream for a congregation of less than one hundred people. The average family income of this church would not likely be more than 12,000 euro a year.

North to Murska Subota

Regrettably, I decided on a diet the very year Pastor Chris Scobie wants me to end my complaint that he doesn’t know about or care for food. Honestly, his God is not his stomach and I am trying to repent of this sin myself. On this visit he hasn’t helped a bit, as he intentionally tries to set before me luscious treats like the baked goods and other delicacies we found in the store along the highway to Murska Subota. I’ll share a few photos of what I mean.

There were several things we set out to accomplish. First, Sergeja and Sabina had preparatory meetings for the children’s camp being held in that region during the coming week.

While they were busy doing that, we went over to the coffee shop where we were later met by Borut B. Borut is well-read and a bit of a philosopher as well as an artist. There is no question, this man is a character! I enjoyed his inquiring mind. So many who consider themselves thinkers here in this part of the world are smug, annoying, cynical and filled with buffoonery (not much substance). Borut is cheery by Slovenian standards. I liked his company and we had a lot to talk about.

Later we picked up Jernej  K., a lawyer and young leader of the church in Murska Subota. This is one of the largest congregations in Slovenia, with about one hundred-fifty attendees. All of Slovenia has only about a thousand Christians in this country of two million. It takes a lot of courage to go counter culturally.

After we dropped Sergeja and Sabina at Sabina’s mother’s place in the country we went on to another of Chris’ culinary surprises, a dish called Bograč – made like a stew but with wild game. It was delicious!

Tired, I asked to be taken back to Sabina’s mom’s place for a brief nap before preaching. After a sleep I took a walk down over the hill where I took some images for potential watercolors (feature photo above).

Evangelical Church, Murska Subota

Later, we met with a congregation of some sixty people who came out for the Wednesday evening meeting. I had spoken to this group before so they seemed to anticipate my visit and I experienced good receptivity. After the two-hour drive back to Lubljana, I crashed.

Flying – High with Igor and Mitjah

Only five minutes earlier

Note to reader: At this point my old camera started to fail me so forgive the inconsistent quality. I have many friends in Slovenia but these two fellows seem to like hanging out with an old man like me and “hanging out” is what we did. They didn’t advise me ahead of time regarding footwear and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as I only have one pair of shoes for all occasions. I squeezed into the Toyota Yaris and out of the city we went toward a popular destination called Velika Panina. Since I didn’t have to pay for this excursion I didn’t ask too many questions.

It was a warm day when we arrived but they assured me that things would be more pleasant in a short while. Neither of the following have I ever done before. First, I boarded a gondola that seemed to go for a mile straight up over a deep valley that we drove through only an

Pretty sure this guy could yodel

half an hour earlier. Then once at the disembarking point I learned that we were far from finished and must now take a ski lift some distance higher. I kept thinking of the lyrics by the eighties band, Boston, “What goes up, must come down, spinning wheel ya, gotta go round.” At some point I’ll have walk back down this thing. I was wrong. The truth is, I didn’t have to walk down, I had to walk back up the mountain. On our way to the apex, we flew over herds of cattle grazing on the slopes as well as, what appeared to be well-equipped hikers – Germans and Austrians (Germans and Austrians are always well-equipped). They were marching along in special everything, special hiking shorts, sticks, boots, socks, hats and so forth. I thought at any moment someone would break out in a yodel or a rendition of, “The hills are alive with the sound of mooing…”. Below us, the Germans, Austrians and Slovenskis were completely decked out for the occasion and here I was in my street shoes without so much as a baseball cap.

It was explained to me that the cattle (mostly Simmental) were driven here in the spring and overseen by drovers until the fall when they were taken back down to the valley floor and their various farms. Though rain has been in short supply everywhere in this region, the cows looked fat and content.

Now, one might think that only a few people come up this far on an afternoon excursion but not so. At the top people were everywhere and I was surprised that some enterprising capitalists had not thought of installing such things as a roller-coaster and ferris-wheel. It appeared to me that with all of these people milling about, money was to be made.

As my eyes stretched down the side of the mountain I saw a sundry of assorted buildings that I later learned were summer cottages that served as ski huts in the winter. Whatever they were, it was an interesting array of wooden buildings constructed of local, natural materials.

UMMMMMMMM…

The guys were interested in feeding me the local cuisine a plate of cheese, salami, hard bread and a sour milk porage that Mitijah actually seemed to enjoy. Igor and I took a couple of spoonfuls which immensely lifted our spirits and gave us confidence that we could now have the energy to make our way back. Actually, many were gathered round the food hut taking in this local fare. The incentive for eating this was undoubtedly more cultural than any desire to indulge. If offered in a restaurant in Ljubljana, I doubt if it would turn-out to be a “hot” menu item.

At the food hut

While eating at one of the long communal tables one older gentleman inquired about my origins and learning I was “Amer-adian”  he began to tell me of the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s in this village some sixty years ago. Apparently, coming through they found partisans hiding here so they killed them all and burned the settlement to the ground leaving nothing behind. This is only one of the thousands of brutal tragedies that occurred throughout this region during the Second World War.

I do NOT always holiday in the mountains…

 

On Saturday morning I was featured to speak to about ten or more men on the subject of what else(?) “Being Men of God.” We had a good time of breakfast and then I spoke for about forty minutes with translation. I started by talking about my father who suffered from the loss of an arm and yet, while working at a job and preaching part-time, planted or restored about ten churches along with my mother’s help. They were both inspiring to me to demonstrate what can be done even when one has few advantages. No one really has any excuse. We are all in ministry – we just have to figure what it is then go about doing it. Most people choose to drive with the clutch half depressed. Those of you grew up in the age of automatic everything may not understand this illustration. Ask someone over fifty years of age to explain it.

Another run of it the next evening…

With the temperature soaring into the upper thirties (95 degrees Fahrenheit) it proved to be less than comfortable weather for drawing. It seemed to me to make more sense to go into a café and draw at a table rather than put up and easel and attempt what I did the night before. I always have a willing side-kick in Matjah. She seems always ready to take strides along side of me so we left the others, crossed the bridge into the old city. Turning the corner onto a major intersection (there may be no more major an intersection than this one in all of the city of Ljubljana) there sat a COMPLETELY naked man for all to see.

It appears that Ljubljana is trying to be avante garde and in so doing decided to have a life drawing course in full view of the entire city. They may not be aware of this – some people – even those who are not prudes – may not like their vacation or supper ruined by viewing some fellow’s private parts.

Amsterdam tried the same “OPEN CITY” experiment and after thirty years discovered that there are some things a city does not want to open about. It so happens that when there are no secrets there are no children. We rob children of their childhood. I doubt if the police and the enlightened city fathers would treat me nicely if I exposed myself to the same people. In my view, this borders on child abuse. In spite of all of this, the shock on Matjah’s face and her speedy departure, we soon managed to settle in at a table in popular coffee shop and there, I started drawing. If you don’t believe this naked man thing actually happened, I have a photograph.

I drew a quick picture of a young girl who continued to move about frequently slipping behind her mother and out of view. When this would happen, I would have to wait until she popped out again and only for a minute or so. By the time I completed anything that resembled her they were up and leaving the table so a valuable contact point was lost.

I managed to do two more portraits. One was that of an Edwardian looking fellow which made it some easy because of his beard and mustache  These landmarks turn out to be helpful for any artist and whether the eyes, mouth or nose are right or wrong it doesn’t seem to matter since the mustache and beard usually turns out to be good enough for most people. Upon handing the fellow the drawing and the

Handing a portrait with a tract

tract the girl behind us perked up with affirmation regarding the likeness. This gesture of compliment encouraged me to draw her next. I took the portrait over with a tract buried in my hand. She kindly received the portrait but then seemed to shut-down completely when she saw what I had handed her. I tried to be funny, charming and complimentary but nothing worked and left her table feeling emotionally dismissed.

Fanning myself…Whew!!!

Thanks to Matjah, I have a few candid photos.

Two Nights of Evangelism in the City Center

It was arranged that a team would be mobilized on two evenings to go down to the city and attempt to engage people in the gospel. Two of the girls are Americans with “Campus for Christ”  so they have some training and skills for this sort of thing. For the others (Slovenia is described as a nation of introverts) this provides good exposure and challenge for the team.

To be honest, I am a bit of a loner on this sort of business and never like to be held up as the standard for evangelism performance. I am not a scheduled evangelist nor do I just attempt to evangelize anyone and everyone. It is my view that the best approach is to always be ready to share the gospel, especially when there is some affinity for the person. For instance, when Jesus saw the rich, young ruler coming toward Him the Bible says that Jesus “looked upon him and loved him.”  As best as I can explain it, this is my methodology. I try to see if something clicks. This is why I pray all of the time for the right person and the right message and the right occasion. I have often wound up with the right person, but the timing or circumstances seemed all wrong. Good communication is said to be this: “The right message, to the right person, in the right way, at the right time.” Worse than almost anything else is what most Christians almost always do – talk about something the audience has absolutely no interest in. Have you ever listened to a drunk ramble on? Well, then, you get the idea.

The team pulled themselves together and off we went. As the “SENIOR EVANGELISTIC GENIUS,” I immediately set up my easel, picked out a target and began to draw. Now, if I did this in Italy, many people would gather around me to see what and how I am doing with occasional encouragements like, “Complimenti” or “Bravisimo!” But, regrettably I don’t get much of this sort of thing in Slovenia where it is considered impolite to meddle in someone else’s business. So, I went right on drawing a fellow at almost forty paces away.

Even Rembrandt felt occasionally rejected

When I was finished, the rather fearless Mateja gladly wanted to help me deliver the gift and interpret for me as I shared the gospel. Off we went, only to discover that the fellow was a mad man. Really, he was a mad (as in angry) man and rather than happily accepting the drawing as almost everyone does, he stared and scowled at us until we gave up after he told us that it didn’t look like him. We took the drawing back over to the waste bin and tossed it in. Seeing that my first attempt at demonstrating how easy it is to share the gospel utterly failed in front of ten fledgling evangelists, I pointed my easel in the opposite direction and drew two other old men in succession who gleefully accepted the tracts and personal witness.

I am a fisherman so I just hate to have a fish refuse my bait or presentation. I decided to circle around again to see what he might do if I came in proximity again. As I floated around his way, he looked up at me and said in a low voice, “Anyway, I have nowhere to put it. It is a nice drawing but I have no wall.” I sat down beside him. “You seem a little angry,” I offered. To this he took his thumb and index finger and spaced them apart, then slowly pulled one hand high above the other. What he communicated was this – not just a little but a lot. This is a common Balkan emotion.

Though nicely dressed and clean for someone living on the street, it was obvious that he had no money, yet, unlike so many others he did not ask me for any of mine. I reached into my pocket and pulled out fifty euro and handed it toward him. He looked at it, then looked at me. Tearfully he asked, “Why would you do this? It is a lot of money.” I said, “I know. I know it is a lot of money to give a stranger but this is what Jesus has done. He lifted me up when I had no hope.” He didn’t understand all of this mumbo-jumbo so I reached in my back pocket, took out the New Testament in Slovene and handed it to him.  Seeing from a distance what was going on,  Mateja was back at his feet explaining where to read.

Who knows what will become of him? Suicide? Insanity? This man, like so many others in this part of the world, have come to a dead stop. Nevertheless, I love the response I get to a simple (howbeit expensive) act of lavish generosity. Was the money wasted? Perhaps, but I had a “durn” good time spending your money in this way. I told this fellow that I thought he was a worthwhile investment. He smiled. Maybe this was his first smile in many days, months or years?