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.