Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Zdravo, Serbia!

Hi everyone,

I am excited to share an update about life in Serbia over the course of June 11-20 - I can hardly believe that we have been here over a week! Thank you so much for all of your prayers - we are doing very well here in Belgrade. I wanted to share some photos and also a brief description of the days that we have spent so far here in Belgrade and several other surrounding cities. We also have a number of exciting excursions coming up that will help us learn more about this area and hopefully give us further opportunities to be of service.

Sunday, June 11
We left early on Sunday morning from Seattle and began a series of flights to Belgrade (including layovers in New York and London - not too shabby). Our flights went smoothly, other than Drew forgetting his sweatshirt on the plane at one point... We enjoyed chatting with each other, solving Sodoku puzzles, reading up on Serbia, and sleeping with our little eye masks. ;)

Monday, June 12
We arrived in Belgrade! Our only frustration was that one of RJ's bags was lost, though it was eventually sent from London the following day. We were exhausted, though thrilled to see Samuil and Crystal. Samuil Petrovsky is the Director of EUS (Evangelic University Students) and Crystal is a missionary spending two years in Belgrade (she participated in Deputation two years ago in Sarajevo, Bosnia). They drove us along with our huge bags to our lovely flat in Novi Beograd (New Belgrade), at which point we spent some time settling in (aka sleeping...). We then went to our first EUS meeting at 6pm in Old Belgrade (the main part of the city, near the city center) and met many wonderful students. Samuil's wife, Nada, gave an excellent talk on HIV and AIDS (she is currently completing her residency to become a doctor) and we heard our first Serbian worship songs - we began to realize just how interesting things were going to be, considering we knew no Serbian. However, everyone was so welcoming and kind that we instantly felt at home with the EUS students and staff. After the meeting we had a chance to go to our first Pekapa (bakery) to try various pastries for a snack. Food is quite inexpensive here in Serbia, so we were amazed by the fact that we could get a great snack for about 20-30 dinars each (there is around 70 dinars to $1). When we finally arrived home around midnight, we literally fell into bed...

Tuesday, June 13
We definitely slept in... By the time we all woke up, we were definitely hungry - a visit to the Pekapa was in order again. :) We met up with Crystal and she helped us find our way around the city to a few important places, including Mercator, one of the local grocery stores. We ended the day by going to check out a local baseball tournament taking place, which featured youth teams from a variety of countries. We cheered on the Serbian team, which the boys from our Deptuation team (Drew and RJ) will be working with during our time in Belgrade. We had a wonderful dinner at a pizza place, which gave us another interesting taste of Serbian food. The tomato sauce put on pizza here is basically ketchup and toppings of course are unique. Today was supposed to be our day of rest and adjustment to the area, though we managed to stay fairly busy...

Wednesday, June 14
We started the day with a visit to the American embassy, with the hopes of registering and also being able to cash in our travellers checks (we had about half of our money in travellers checks, which we discovered no one would take...). As we walked to the embassy we walked past a number of the buildings that were bombed by NATO in recent years, which were certainly striking images. There is not much evidence of the bombings most places (at least to the eye of an average tourist, like myself), though the particular street we walked on was the site of a number of government and military buildings that were targeted. Unfortunately the embassy could not help us with the travellers checks, so we headed off on our tour of Belgrade with a wonderful student named Slobodan. Slobo took us everywhere in the city, which really helped us get oriented to the place we are now calling home. We walked by the Parliament building, City Hall, Republic Square, Kalemagdon (the fortress), and many other exciting places. I am including a number of pictures from our walking tour that day, which feature members of our team as well as Slobo. We ended our tour by stopping for some traditional Serbian food at a famous cafe that has been around for many years - so many years that its name is noted as a question mark, because its name has been changed throughout the years with different ownership so many times that no one can keep it straight. Following the tour we had a chance to get pictures for our bus passes, which was a very entertaining experience - we all had to have Serbian smiles... in other words, no smile whatsoever - it was quite difficult for all us of smiley students, although we received lots of scolding from the Serbian woman taking our pictures.

Thursday, June 15
We held our first team Bible study with Samuil! We are studying the gospel of Mark, a chapter a day from now until we leave (excluding weekends... for some rest). We then went to a floating cafe on the Danube River to meet up with Amy, who works for the US State Department here in Belgrade. It was a great opportunity to ask questions of an American who has been living in Serbia for several years now - she was very helpful. We also met Valentino, who is a student from Nis. Drew and I went on an adventure with Boyon to get bus passes for the team - Boyon is very involved with EUS and he is a highly entertaining driver. :) In Serbia it is very common to express your emotions with your car horn... and lanes change in very odd ways sometimes. We then went to a prayer meeting at EUS, which was a wonderful opportunity to pray with students and hear about things going on in their lives. It is very difficult to be a part of the Protestant church in Belgrade, considering Protestantism is often looked at as a sect here in comparison to the Serbian Orthodox church. We are learning a lot about what it means to be a "Christian" in Serbia, in all senses of the word.

Friday, June 16
Today Serbia-Montenegro played Argentina in the World Cup! We had a number of students over for a party to watch the game, though unfortunately the game was not so good... Serbia lost 6-0... though we had a great time hanging out with students (our flat was full of people - twenty or so). After the game, Annika and I went to help Yelena at the EUS office with cleaning - we swept, mopped, washed dishes, etc. We enjoyed getting to know Yelena much more and having a chance to pray with her about our team's needs and also things going on in her life. We were then invited to attend dinner at Samuil and Nada's home, which was wonderful! We had Serbian spaghetti and many other treats, as well as had an opportunity to get to know some of their extended family members. We have been so grateful for their hospitality and support in welcoming us into their home and culture.

Saturday, June 17
We had a chance to sleep in! Our main mission of the day was to make it to Pancevo for a worship concert. We took a small van to Pancevo, enjoyed lunch at a cafe, and then worked our way over to a small church for the concert. The concert featured a wonderful worship team, which included Nada and a number of people from EUS, and it was a great way to share our ministry with the community. The church was a beautiful building that was started by a group of German Christians, though now has transitioned into becoming a Methodist church. Unfortunately it has few members - we had over fifty people there for the concert though! After the concert we headed into the city center of Pancevo for a carnival that was taking place. It was great to walk around and experience the city, which is a very small town in comparison to Belgrade. I spent time with a student named Yasmina, who was from Pancevo, and she told me all about the wonderful city - it was great to have a guide and I hope to see her sometime soon at an EUS meeting in Belgrade (Pancevo is about a twenty minute drive from Belgrade).

Sunday, June 18
Our first chance to go to church in Belgrade! We spent the morning at a small church in Belgrade and the evening at another small church in Pancevo. In the morning the boys shared their testimonies with the congregation (with Samuil translating) and in the evening Annika and I shared a favorite verse/words of encouragement (with Boyon translating). The churchs had very different atmospheres, though they were both very unique and we enjoyed meeting many people of all ages. The church we attended in the morning provided us with an incredible lunch and several of the people there invited Annika and I to come volunteer at the Christian kindergarten (for 3-6 year olds - children start school at 7 years old here). It was such a pleasure to meet Christians here in Belgrade and take part in worship services with them. After the evening service we went to visit a student who has a knee injury, Bilyana. She is an amazing girl, who studies music theory and is a concert pianist! She is definitely someone we will be keeping in our prayers, considering her knee is giving her a lot of trouble. Also, she is the only Christian in her family and her parents are very wary of her involvement with church activities - if you could, please pray for her that she will be able to stay positive and maintain a good relationship with her family, despite differences in opinion. We hope to visit her again sometime soon.

Monday, June 19
After our daily Bible study, Annika and I headed to the Christian kindergarten. We absolutely loved all of the children that we met there, although the language barrier proved challenging. When we arrived the children were having an English lesson - they were singing a song about the colors of the rainbow, then "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands" and finally "Jingle Bells" - it was the first time I have ever heard "Jingle Bells" in summer... Still, it was cute to see all of the children so engaged and excited to learn. We helped them with little craft projects, teaching them to make pop-up books, and helped them with puzzles and other activities. I was particularly drawn to one girl, Emilia, who came up to me with a book about pirates. Unfortunately I could not read any of the book (in Serbian), though we had fun looking at the pictures together and laughing at the silly expressions of the characters. After our time there we went to the EUS meeting, where we led a few icebreakers to start the meeting. The main talk for the meeting was given by an amazing pastor from Montenegro, who has also lived in the United States for quite some time. I enjoyed talking to him for a while after the meeting and we hope to visit him and his family in Montenegro in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, June 20
Today we went to the beautiful city of Novi Sad! Novi Sad is in the province of Vojvodina, which is about an hour to the north of Belgrade. We met up with several EUS leaders, including Vanya and Jacob, who showed us around the city and spoke with us about the needs there. We learned a lot about some of the recent history, such as the NATO bombings, which destroyed the three bridges going into Novi Sad. The bridges have since been rebuilt, though it was intense to see pictures of the devastation caused by the bombings. We visited many churches, the town square, and ultimately the fortress, which is similar to that in Belgrade. The city is smaller than Belgrade, though it has a lot of charm and is described as "the most easterly city in the west and the most westerly city in the east" - quite unique. Annika and I especially enjoyed speaking with Vanya, who is a Serbian woman who was forced to evacuate from her home in Bosnia during the recent conflicts and also very much remembers the recent bombings in Novi Sad. Vanya will be an intern at The Inn at University Presbyterian Church next year, so it was very exciting to meet her and talk about life in Seattle in comparison to life in Novi Sad and other parts of Serbia. We ended the day visiting a large Protestant church in Novi Sad, which was incredibly huge and beautiful - it was built about seven years ago and can hold several hundred people (probably one of the largest churches of its kind in the whole region). We will be taking part in the Sunday service there in the coming weeks. Also, it is worth mentioning the crazy rainstorm we had today. When we were out walking through the town it began to pour like nothing I have ever seen (that is saying a lot, being from Seattle and all). The weather is so warm that we thought it would be a quick drizzle, though it began to pour with huge gusts of wind and even hail! I couldn't believe that it was incredibly hot outside and hailing... The city has very poor drainage, so after the storm a number of streets were flooded and we had to drive on a sidewalk in order to get to the freeway to go home to Belgrade - kind of crazy.

Anyways, we are all here safe and sound! I will look forward to posting another update sometime soon. If you have any comments, feel free to add to this! Next time I will hope to have some of the verses that we have been studying in particular to share as well - I know that God has been sharing a lot with all of us lately through this experience.

Finally, we have some exciting adventures coming up and we would really appreciate your prayers for the following:
- The boys, as they work with the Serbian baseball team to build relationships with team members and also potentially go on tour with them to Croatia in the coming days.
- The girls, as we go to Kosovo on Friday to work with a day camp for refugee children (we will be on the Serbian side) - we expect to return on next Wednesday (June 28).
- EUS, for wonderful meetings that touch the lives of all the students and staff involved.

Thanks so much and we hope all is going well for you!

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