Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in Poland

I enjoyed a traditional Polish Christmas with my friends in Katowice.
Some of you know Jurek and his sister and their parents. They were very generous in welcoming me into their home to share the season with them. I have acquired a new love for the famous beetroot soup. The best so far was what Ania prepared on Christmas eve, served over yummy mushroom-filled perogies. The evening of Dec. 24 is the main family gathering and traditionally no meat is served. Instead the main course is fish. The carp was delicious, even though we had to fight with the bones a bit. After dinner we sang Polish carols. One of them I have now heard several times and it is constantly ringing in my head - a very catchy tune. After the carols we had tea and cakes - several different kinds - and then we opened presents. I was surprised to receive several gifts but pleased to be made to feel so much a part of the family. Tomek, Ania's very kind and thoughtful son, passed out the gifts. Ania received a very classy hat and glove set from her brother.

On Christmas day there was a church service in the morning and I was invited to share a brief word. I shared a few thoughts and told the story of the 3 trees. But the highlight of the service were the testimonies that were shared by the children as part of their Christmas presentation. What a touching thing to hear young children speaking sincerely 0f their love for Jesus and their desire to serve Him!
On 'second Christmas' ( the second day of Christmas, Boxing Day to Canadians), I had the delight of going to lunch with my dear friend Radek, who I had met the first time I came to Poland. We found a Pizza Hut that was open and ate a nice meal while talking and talking and talking. It was a really good visit.
The next day I jumped on a train to travel the hour and a half to the town of Skoczow to vist my friend Renia. Renia was a member of our team in Moldova up until a few months ago so this was a good chance to touch base with her and to see how she has been doing in readapting to life at home. Her parents were very hospitable and her mother kept serving us with delicious food while she and I talked and talked and talked for hours. Then she walked me back across town to the train station and I headed back to Katowice.

On Sunday once again I shared a very brief thought from the pulpit and also sang a song. After the service I reconnected with a really nice family who have kept in contact with me since the first time I came to Poland. It was great to see them again and to hear of the interest of the two teenagers to come to Moldova maybe this summer. I hope my boss realizes how much recruiting I have been trying to do over this Christmas!!
This has been a good Christmas and of course it is always a joy to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and to be reminded that he is Emmanuel, "God with us". The difficult part of this Christmas, of course, has been being away from my kids and just missing them so much. I'm thankful for internet as I have had e-mail contact with Marah, chatted online with Joshua, and know a bit of what Ben is up to through Facebook. I love you all, my darlings. Today I saw a man with a very cute little granddaughter in hand and I started thinking about Eliana and what she will be like as she grows older. Suddenly I realized I was walking along the street with a silly grin on my face as I thought of the little princess and remembered how cute she is when she laughs!
In my next post I'll fill you in on my visit to Cracow...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Season...

... has begun in Moldova. After church this evening I went for a walk along the main street - it was a damp mild evening but the streets were all lit up. Because it was mild, lots of people seemed to be out walking around. I have been going to this new church plant in the centre of the city for the last month or so. We meet in a kind of library on Sunday evenings. Even there, was a Christmas tree.

For me, the first taste of Christmas was a few weeks ago when I went to the edge of Romania to visit our Australian exiles. Ben & Becca had hoped to work with us in Moldova but the government will not allow them in the country. So now they are stuck in Romania and praying for guidance as to what field they should go to. So when I visited them I stayed at an American hotel and we had supper there together, with lovely western Chrismas music in the background. That was nice.

More recently I attended the International Women's Club Christmas bazaar, an annual even that brings in a fair bit of revenue and is also full of interesting things to see. There were some folk dancers as well as lots of food and crafts for sale.

Since then our team has been busy with a number of things. Of course, many of our workers are involved in Christmas programs in the villages, and distributing various food packages and gifts for children that have been donated by sponsors. Our fall training program for missions has also come to an end and with that a variety of responsibilities to be fulfilled, including evaluations and reports. Tomorrow evening we have our team Christmas party and so we have been preparing for that. That will involve dinner out at a very special restaurant and then a rollicking good time back at the mission centre around the Christmas tree with gifts for everyone and enjoying desserts there.

I am looking forward to my Christmas trip to Poland where I will visit some special friends and join in the Christmas celebrations there. I'm excited about that but I'm feeling kind of sad about not being able to be with family for Christmas. Packages have been sent and I've been learning the art of shopping on the internet for a few things, just to make sure they arrive in case Moldova Post lets me down. So I'll end this post with a few newly received photos of my adorable grandchildren, Alejandro and Eliana.

And I also want to take this opportunity to extend best wishes to all my readers and friends and friends-I-don't-know-yet for a very blessed Christmas and a happy new year 2009! As you contemplate the coming of the Christ Child to this earth, may you understand for the first time or in a new way the depth of God's love for you, and the joy Jesus delights to share with you.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Well, faithful readers, I guess I owe you an apology for such a long delay between postings. I ask myself why and realize that last weekend, for example, I basically didn't want to go anywhere or do anything as the nasty cold that was being passed around found its way to my house. So I made chicken soup and drank hot lemon and lots of water and tea and honey and hoped it would all go away. Being at work on Monday and Tuesday was miserable but by Wednesday I was feeling better. Thursday was a lot of nose-blowing and today, while I felt fine, I still break into coughing fits every so often. So that's my excuse for this week.

But on to more interesting topics now that I have fully played on your sympathy. For any of you who are going through the same misery with a nasty cold, you have my sympathy and I hope you are feeling better very soon. My team-mate, Butje, tells me that if you take echinacea regularly you won't catch cold. He is from Indonesia and after his first nasty confrontation with winter colds in this very different climate he discovered echinacea and he swears by it.

So the big news this week is very disappointing news. The couple from Chile who we were hoping to get into Moldova to work with us here have been denied their visa. No more chances to reapply anytime soon. No explanation or reason given - just a no. And on top of that, the Australian couple who had been here and had to leave temporarily (we thought) have also been denied the possibility of re-entry. No reason given. This was not expected at all and so now they are sitting in Romania and need to decide what other country they might like to serve in. Please pray for all these dear friends - this has been a very stressful time for them and now all their plans need to be readjusted.

And now we start the journey towards Christmas. I have noticed recently that Moldova is becoming more and more westernized. A big new mall just opened - the "Mall Dova" - if you can bear it! And in the shops there are Christmas products already for sale. Because Christmas here is celebrated on January 7 (Orthodox calendar) to see Christmas paraphernalia so soon seems a bit odd. The celebrations here are generally not nearly as materialistic as they are in the west, but I can see it moving in that direction.

I have been assigned with the task of finding a restaurant where we can go as a team for our Christmas celebration. The per/person cost is something we are trying to decrease as our team is so large now but it's not easy to find a place that is affordable. Albine and I went to a few potential venues today and were shocked at the prices some of them are asking. Our favourite and would-be choice is a lovely new place on the edge of town that fits all our requirements perfectly except for the fact that the cost per person starts at 600 lei - the equivalent of $60! I think I picked my chin up off the floor before we left the restaurant. As we drove back to the base, Albine was telling me about visiting a 'feeding the elderly' project that we have in one of the villages. As she described the condition that many of the seniors live in it was hard to reconcile their desperate reality with the amount of money that we might spend on a simple team celebration. This is one of the challenges of living in a poor country. We don't have western salaries as the American embassy employees would have but even a missionary budget is better than that of many Moldovans. A constant issue to grapple with is that of financial inequality and how we as Christians are to handle our money - wisely and generously - ; recognizing that all things come from God.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learning & Growing together

This week was a busy one for my department. We had a visit from the personnel officer for the Central European area, who came from Germany to help train us in our responsibilities. It was a good time with him and we all benefitted from his wisdom and experience. Each member of our personnel department learned new things about what it is exactly that we are supposed to be doing. By the end of Tobias' time with us, it seemed that each person in the group had gained a better understanding of the breadth of our work and a clearer idea of their role in our little team. Tobias had led us through a list of all the functions of the department - recruiting, maintaining records, member care, training, communicating internationally, connecting with churches and other home offices, and sending into missions - and helped us see where we each fit in. He then gave us an overview of all that is involved in member care: not only dealing with crisis situations but also helping people through transitions and cultural adaptation and encouraging them in team life, relationships, and in their personal development and growth.

His visit was short but his time was very full and the whole team benefitted from his experience as he shared at our prayer meeting and another session as well. I think my department is now going to be stronger, better organized and more able to handle the demands placed on us. Pictured is Tobias on the left, and our department members - Claudia (Switzerland), Albine (Moldova), Ivanir (Brazil) and yours truly.

Friday was my birthday and the first gift I received was this lovely white rose, from my team.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In the Belly of a Whale

This week our team was treated to a real special evening. It was the farewell party for a Dutch family who have been with us for 4 years. Along with their 3 daughters, Jeanine and Fulco are returning to Holland. But before they left the three Dutch girls and the two Brazilian children on our team put together a wonderful musical rendition of the Jonah and the Whale. The five MK's (missionary kids) put together all their creative abilities under the direction of the girls' teacher, Alida, who came from Holland last January to help them prepare for returning to the Dutch school system. Alida has been a wonderful addition to our team as well and we are glad that she feels God's calling to continue with us in Moldova. Judging from the creativity expressed in the Jonah play, we'll have lots more fun events with Alida around.

It was very impressive to see the way the children had learned many lines directly from the Bible in presenting the story.

The role of captain of the ship and then king of Nineveh was played by the youngest and smallest of the children - very cute. Their artistic ability in putting together the props and the set were very evident. And even 're-writing' familiar tunes to go with the story they were presenting... including a song about the withering vine which had us all laughing - the kids did an awesome job! Did I mention that the whole thing was performed in the common language these children share: Romanian.

At the end of the children's presentation, Jeanine and Fulco shared some thoughts with the team about their years here in Moldova. Team members also shared some of the special memories they had of this wonderful couple. Together, Jeanine and Fulco have done a huge amount to develop our relief and development ministries here in Moldova. Micro-businesses, training courses, day centres, women's groups, feeding the elderly and community projects have largely been initiated and/or developed significantly through the ministry of this couple. We will miss you, Jeanine, Fulco, Noe, Deena, Iada. God bless you!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Summer on Monday; Winter on Saturday

When I left Montenegro on Monday, we had picked mandarin oranges and pomegranates off the trees outside my friend Micah's house that morning. The day was hot and sunny and short sleeves were very comfortable. The day before I had watched a man swimming at the beach nearby!

On Wednesday when I went to the office, I stepped out of my apartment building and practically waded through the yellow leaves that were falling steadily from the trees. It was autumn.

Yesterday, as I drove home from work, I turned the heater on in my car and thought to myself "I need to find where I put my winter gloves. My hands are cold." Today I had the opportunity to meet my downstairs neighbour when he knocked on my apartment door. Since my radiators are on the floor above his, mine have the knob that you turn to let the air out. The air had to be released so that the hot water could circulate through the system. It's been awhile since I lived in a house with radiators and had to do that at the beginning of the winter. So now my radiators work in my apartment, and I know my downstairs neighbour - a very nice young man with a wife and young child. It's true that winter is just around the corner. Outside it's cold, but inside I'm beginning to feel warmer.

Stari Bar & Petrovac

The name of the city in Montenegro where we stayed is Bar, and there is an historic site nearby which is called ‘Stari Bar’, meaning Old Bar. This fortified hill fortress town dates back to the 6th C. AD and is apparently an archaeological treasure, with various levels of historic significance which have been excavated only in limited fashion. It was fascinating to wander around this site, which had been further devastated by an earthquake in 1978 but some of which has been reconstructed. I took lots of pictures. Here are a few of them.
It was a misty day with a bit of rain but not so much that our explorations were overly dampened.
We met afterwards in atraditional-style café and enjoyed a cappuccino.

The day the conference ended we went on a drive to the nearby seaside town of Petrovac. It was a windy day and the surf was rough. Micah and I climbed up to a terrace at the end of the seawall and watched the waves crashing against the rocks. It was awesome – reminded me of childhood days jumping the rocks at Peggy’s Cove and marveling at the ocean spray against the rocky shore.
I also got some great photos of a couple of the local folk who didn’t mind letting me take their picture at all. I especially like this one of the woman who had been gathering olives from the ground of an olive grove near where we parked the van. She and I had a brief conversation with my complete lack of knowledge of the Serbian language. The interesting thing is that Serbian is a Slavic language so the very few Russian words that I know help a bit in figuring out what is being said. But just a bit.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Kotor & Budva

Mid-way through the week in Montenegro we took a day off and enjoyed an outing together to a historic city further up the coast to the north. The city of Kotor is located on a large inland port which is accessed through a fjord-like channel that the cruise ships navigate to arrive in this beautiful spot. For us, it was about a 1 ½ hour drive from Bar. Kotor is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. (I remember going to Wielicka in Poland – another World Heritage Site. That too was amazing so I think I will make it a goal to visit as many of these sites as possible!) Kotor’s chief attraction is the old city, enclosed in the historic fortress-like walls. At one time an autonomous city-state, it later (1490) put itself under the protection of Venice so the Venetian influence is seen in some of the architecture and décor. Its narrow alleys and well-restored walls contain many cafes where tourists (like us) can while away an afternoon with cappuccino and lovely cakes. The city’s fortifications are built right into the mountain that embraces it. The ambitious in our group climbed the 1,350 steps to the Fortress of St. Ivan and had a spectacular view from there. Those of us who were less ambitious get to enjoy their photos! As well as the pleasure of relaxing at cafes and exploring the narrow cobblestone streets and the car-less city squares, we were able to do a bit of Christmas shopping in the very nice shops conveniently located for visitors from the cruise ships. After spending most of the day in Kotor we stopped on the way back to Bar in another coastal town called Budva. I was tired and didn’t want to do a lot of walking around the old historic city so I asked Micah to show me where the beach was. She led me to an awesome beach, filled with cafes, next to the city wall and fortress. The waves were rolling against the shore and the sound of the waves and the breeze from the ocean and the sun gradually descending over the sea were such a balm to my soul. I found a seat away from the others and just soaked it all in, while I also did some reading in preparation for my next day’s teaching. Since that day I have looked for every opportunity I could find to sit on the shore and breathe in the salt air. Will I ever get enough of it? My Nova Scotia ocean blood is still pretty powerful!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


For the past week I have had the wonderful privilege and opportunity of being in Montenegro – an absolutely beautiful country. Driving from the airport in Podgorica to the city of Bar where we were coming to attend a conference, I was amazed at the mountainous country we traversed, sometimes through very long tunnels through the mountains themselves and sometimes along the shore of a beautiful lake, part of which is a bird sanctuary. Crossing the last range of mountains we descended to a small city cradled among the mountains and set on the shore of the Adriatic Sea. From here you could take a ferry to Italy which would take 8 hours to cross. But Italy is not on the itinerary and we have been quite content to enjoy this beautiful country, whose name means “Black Mountain”.
The conference we have come to is a gathering of missionaries from our region who have just completed their first year on the mission field. The purpose is to give them a chance to reflect, receive some pastoral care, share their experiences with others who they trained with upon their first arrival, and also receive some teaching and training that will equip them better for their ministries. The group is small: the German team leader for the small team here in Montenegro, a Korean couple who are serving in Kosovo, an Ecuadoran woman and a Chilean couple who are serving in Albania, and two young women – a Moldovan and an Austrian – who are serving with me in Moldova. I have come as one of the teacher/trainers along with another long-time missionary, Dave, who is American but has been living in Austria for more than 30 years. We have been hosted and organized by Micah, a woman from Idaho who arrived in eastern Europe at the same time I did and who is now serving in Montenegro, after spending her first term in Albania. Micah and I get along really well and it has been nice to renew acquaintance with her. She’s going the extra mile in hosting several of us in her home for a few days after the conference.
For me this week has been a gift in the opportunity I have had to do the Bible teaching I love to do. The first few days I was doing seminars on how to study the Bible and for the last few days I was teaching the book of Colossians. I also had the privilege of working together with Dave in presenting several workshops related to ministry skills. We did a few on transitions and adapting to the culture and then some on mentoring and listening skills.
One of the highlights for all of us was the opportunity to hear Dave’s stories. He is renowned in our organization as a story teller – and does he have stories to tell!! Around the dinner table after the meal each evening he would entertain us with all kinds of stories.Whether they were stories of his childhood or stories of his Bible-smuggling days, they were either humorous or rivetingly exciting. As we talked about the challenges they had faced bringing the word of God to countries that had been behind the Iron Curtain, I suggested to Dave that we have it much easier now as missionaries – at least in the countries where we are serving. I was really challenged by Dave’s response that the opposition is just as strong but we don’t always recognize it as easily. The things that make missions difficult now are such things as materialism, that distracts and deters people from listening to or responding to God’s call to follow Christ. If people are satisfied temporally, they don’t always realize how great are their deeper spiritual needs. And so they don’t bother listening to the good news we bring.
I guess we need to pray that we as missionaries not be entrapped by materialism and lulled into indifference and lack of passion for the message we bring and the ministry we fulfill. Also that the people we seek to reach are not deceived into thinking that material things can fulfill spiritual needs. Dave smuggled Bibles to bring the word that people were longing for. We openly bring the Word of God and sometimes people are totally unaware and uncaring that this is a message of hope and redemption that can dramatically change their lives for the better.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Open Hearts in Exile

From time to time - more frequently than we would choose for ourselves - we are called upon to be in a place or bear a burden or do a service that we don't want to be or bear or do. But there it is. It happens. And it has been said, and will be said again, that in those times when we feel we have no power of choice, we do have the ability to choose our attitude.

Such is the case with some of my team-mates, whom I had the privilege of visiting this week in Romania. They have chosen an attitude of gratitude and a willingness to serve the Lord in whatever way He opens up for them. These friends are living outside of Moldova because they are waiting for visas to come into the country. They have set up house in a small village near the border of Moldova. Henry and Ingrid hope to come and work with us but they have not yet been able to receive an official invitation into the country, which is required for them to obtain a visa. They are sharing a place with our team-mate Dana, who is teaching them Romanian as they wait. Dana's residency permit expired and so she had to leave the country for 3 months so that she can come back in for 3 months. However she is also waiting for news of the possibility to study in the UK or the US.

So there they are... nothing to do but teach/learn Romanian. ? But not really! The village children have discovered that Dana and her friends love children and so they come calling in the morning and all throughout the day. "DANA!! DANA!! Can we play in the yard? Do you have candies for us?" They are received kindly even though at times they need some instructions regarding boundaries... more than once. Later in the afternoon Dana bakes cookies for them - something that is not part of their normal experience. Watching her expressing such care for these children reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for. I had never really thought of how much love is expressed in the simple acts, like baking something for someone. When I was a child my mother baked every Friday afternoon so that we always had some kind of cookies or cakes around. I didn't realize until now how much that spoke of her love for us. (Thanks, Mom!)

I was encouraged by the way my friends are speaking into the lives of these children, who come from very poor homes. Some of them don't even go to school as they are not encouraged at home to do so. But they are learning about the love of God through the caring and nurturing they are receiving from these foreigners in their midst. With open hearts Dana and Henry and Ingrid are receiving this time as an opportunity given by God to care for the poor and to let the little children know that they have a loving Heavenly Father. In the evening I watched the joy of these young boys as Henry played a game of pickup soccer with them. Is he the first adult to ever do so? My friends are not expecting to be in this place for long but I am guessing that however long or short their time is, these little boys will never forget the kindness and the care that they were shown by some people who for a time sojourned among them and told them about a friend named Jesus.
Please pray for these children and for their village, and for my three friends. Pray that they will receive their documents in due time.
I just want to let you all know that I won't be blogging for a bit over a week, at least. I leave tomorrow to go to Montenegro to teach at a conference there. I won't have internet access! I'll post photos later so keep watching!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A very busy month

Dear readers, I must apologize for the lack of entries this month. It is a good reflection of the fact that I have been very busy. I can't even begin to go into details. But when my son complains that I haven't written on my blog, I figure I better do something! So before I go off to Romania tomorrow morning early, I'll see if I can find a photo or two to share with you.

Last Sunday I went with Albina to her home village so she could present a report of her work to her sending church. After the worship service, in which I also stood up and brought greetings to the church, we went to Albina's home for dinner. The food was awesome! Some of my favourite things were on the table, including placinte cu bostan and clatite cu brinza dulce. Soooo good! Albina then took us out to see the calf that had been born that very morning. Imagine that they can stand on their feet the same day they are born!!

Our missions training course is currently running, with about 30 students from all over Moldova participating. Our regular prayer meeting was extra special last Tuesday as we had different stations representing different countries. We would travel from one "country" to another, hear about their culture, sample their food, and pray for some of the needs that had been shared regarding that country. In this tent we learned about some Asian countries, like Indonesia. Our Australian team members had some amazing photos of their beautiful country and we learned a bit of culture as they taught us how to play cricket!! Speaking of whom, we have been spending a fair bit of time trying to get their documents sorted out and it is still uncertain whether they are going to be able to stay in Moldova or not.

Last Saturday I spent the whole day at a women's conference at which Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter) was the speaker. She is an excellent preacher and I really enjoyed hearing her. Hope she doesn't mind that I'm going to use some of her material at a training seminar I will be doing next week in Montenegro! There were several hundred women there and during the breaks I saw some women who I hadn't seen in awhile so it was nice to realize that I do know some people in the country now! Got my photo taken with Anne so I could show my friend Birgit. Birgit, do you see this? I met her finally! God bless you, Birgit! The event was at the Moldova Opera House and I was back there again this past Saturday to attend an opera - Verdi's Aida. It was quite good and Becca (from Australia) and I enjoyed it. Also enjoyed a conversation we had with a couple who work with Peace Corps, who were sitting next to us. There's over 100 American Peace Corps volunteers in the country of Moldova.

Yesterday (Sunday) evening I went with my Moldovan friend Tanea to a worship service at a new church plant here in the city. It was great to be there although the numbers are small but the pastor has a heart to share the hope and love of Christ with the people in this city. I'm sure the church will grow.

OK, so tomorrow morning I will be travelling by mini-bus to a town just on the other side of the border in Romania. I'm going to visit the couple from Chile who are still waiting to receive their invitation to be able to come into the country. They are there with my team-mate from Romania who is teaching them the language. So I need to finish this and get to bed. But before I do I'm sure you want to see photos of my grandchildren so you can see how much they are growing. Alejandro turned 2 years old on October 10! You can be sure that I am thankful for all the Lord's blessings, but especially for these beautiful grandchildren!