Monday, July 31, 2006

Sierra Leone Update

Wuzup?! Cause here a general tone of awesomeness is what is up. This week we acted as counselors for a camp that took place on the campus of a seminary in a place called Juey. I think our main function, however, was just to be there so that the flyers for the camp could proudly proclaim that
Americans would be there. There were about 150 kids there, aging anywhere from 7 to 17, about 50 of which were from the COTN orphanage. We worked closely with some totally awesome nationals, which was especially important since African kids often totally ignore our attempts to supervize. Jesse, our COTN intern leader, presided as the elustrious Igwe (Nigerian king) over the camp and ruled with an iron fist and inspirational hip shaking. The theme of the camp was "I want to be a Joseph" (Old Testament one) and several kids got saved and a whole lot decided to dedicate their lives to proclaiming the gospel. The kids labored intensely in order to construct the illustrious crafts, which included framed pictures, animal masks, paper plate paintings, crosses with yarn decor, and bracelets. In order to demonstrate the emphasis Jesus Christ placed on defeating your brother and sister in competition in all of His sermons, everyone in the camp was divided amongst four teams--Hot Pink (oh yah!), Caution Yellow (somehow beat Hot Pink--through bribery I'm sure), Danger Red, and Neon Orange. Each team gained points through good behavior and their success in games and performances. On the final night we had a talent show, and we "international interns" (white people) performed a skit in which we all went up to the stage, two by two, and brushed our teeth, spewing the resulting sputum into a cup. Brent then walked in, drained the contents of the cup down his throat, yelled "Buyah," and walked off stage. Several people followed him outside so as to regurgitate that nights meal of cassava root and gravy. We were all incredibly tired by the end of that week of insane fun, and so we spent a couple of days of rest at a beach resort to revamp. We still miss everyone a ton even with the awesome time we have been having.

Thankyou for your prayers. Lots of love to you all!

Erin, Kaila Ann, Brent, and Nate

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sierra Leone Update

An update from Erin (7-22):
Hello all! We have just wrapped up our 4th week in Sierra Leone. This will be an update from the past 2 weeks since we haven't been able to post. But i have to go so i'll make is short. our third week here we were working at the ophanage doing sponsership stuff. We helped the kids write letters and took their pictures and did a lot of work updating all the kids files. The files blew us away because they had all of the kids pasts. It was incredible. Then last week we put on a VBS where the theme was obedience. We had about 135 kids come and they were all wonderful. God is continually blessing us in every way here. This week we are taking kids to camp. Pray for us, we will update when we come back. love you all

Chile Update

An update from Thad (7-22):
-Skills Needed to Travel to Chile-
The Ability to Use a Clothes Line
Basic Wood Working
Salsa Dancing
Ability to Sand and Paint
Willingness To Eat Bread at Every Meal
Hypothermia Prevention
Ability to Sleep In a Concert like Atmosphere
Ability to Use a Fork, Knife and Spoon (We eat a lot)
Conversion of Metric into Standard
Bathroom Renovation and Plumbing
How To Sweep and Mop With The Same Utensil

-Skills Not Needed to Travel to Chile-
The Ability to Use a Level
12 inch Voice
24 inch Voice
1 Meter Voice
Spanish Prononciation
Using Sunscreen or Bugspray
How To Turn DOWN Your Music/TV

We´ve completed three bathroom renovations. Two in the school and one in the head pastors house. Michelle, Ester and Sarah joined a number of of youth from the church and performed a version of Jesus Christ Superstar. We leave in about 4 hours to head down south to Lautaro for the next week. We´re all looking forward to heading down south to meet some new people, and see more of Chile. Upon our return we will be participating in the head pastors 25th wedding aniversary, when him and his wife renew ther vows. We´re pretty excited to experience what a Chilean wedding is like. Last night the head pastor took all of us out to dinner to ´A Pig With a Sweater ´ to say thank you for the hard work we have been putting in. And let me tell you, if ¨A Pig with a Sweater¨ goes international and opens up in Seattle you need to go. Other than that everything is going really well. Thanks for the prayers.
Team Chile
Ester, Michelle, Sarah, Taylor and Thad

India Update

An email from Brad (7-22):
Hello All - we are back "home" in Bangalore now, but it has been quite the week. The adventures started on Tuesday when we left our nice, cozy and comfortable school rooms and headed to the Bangalore train station for our trip to the Mukti Mission and Pune, India. Our train was about a half hour late but eventually it came and with help from Prem we were able to find our coach and seats and were magically seated before the train left (it was only a 3 minute stop). The train ride was an experience all in itself, but luckily it was an 18 hour experience so we had a lot of time to reflect and really explore how we felt about the train. We rode in an AC 3-Tier, which basically meant that our car was air conditioned and was sectioned off into compartments consisting of 2 benches facing each other, an aisle, and then two seats facing each other. It is hard to explain but basically when you want to sleep it is like a scene out of transformers and somehow there is a bed for everyone (3 high, hence the 3-Tier). I think we all agree that it wasn't the best night's sleep we have ever had but I think it was one of those nights that you can look back on and chalk up as "an experience" and then complain about later in life.
India train factoid of the day - the train does not have any storage system for human waste, toilet pipes literally lead straight to the ground, for this reason it is encourage to only use bathrooms while the train is in motion and not near a station!
We made it to our stop the next morning where we got off, but we didn't really have instructions on what to do. There was a driver waiting to pick us up but since it would be easier for him to spot the only 5 white people getting off the train than for us to find him no one bothered to give us any of information. Meanwhile, Nick (from England) was in a world of hurt as he was having some very sharp stomach pains that had started the night before after dinner. So Nick was in a pain and walking very slowly, we were being hounded by young children for all of the excess money and food they were sure we had while trying to find someone who seemed to notice us, which is hard when everyone is staring at you. We worked our way to the stairs to get to the parking lot and a man waiting at the bottom mumbled the name of where we were going and so we figured he was our man and began to follow him as Nick fell further and further behind. Eventually we made it to the car and were on our way. By this point there was something obviously wrong with Nick and so we asked if we could stop somewhere and get him looked at. While driving they had Nick speak to 2 different people on the phone, describing his symptoms which we figured was a good sign. About an hour later we were at our destination with Nick still in agony. We got out and were greeted by some people who showed us too our rooms, we asked them if there was a Dr. nearby that Nick could see and they said there was one right across the street so the girls went to get settled and Howard and I escorted Nick to the Dr. We walked straight into the Doctor's office, Nick described his symptoms, was laid on a bed and the Doctor did some Doctor things with his stethoscope, diagnosed Nick with food poisoning, called his nurses, gave him 2 shots and a prescription and he was on his way. Apparently the fried food sold on the train was a big "no-no" and Nick had over indulged slightly, though Howard and I had some and we felt fine. Nick headed back to our room while Howard and I waited for the prescription, which only took a couple of minutes and then we paid for the whole ordeal which came out to be a little more than $3. Nick was pretty much out of commission for the day but got better as the trip progressed, we still aren't sure who he talked to on the phone in the car though...
While Nick rested we got a brief tour of where we were staying, which was the Mukti Mission. It is basically a huge compound for babies, infants and young girls to live and go to school. It was started over 100 years ago by Pandita Ramabai and has been refuge to thousands of young girls and children ever since. There are over 500 girls staying there now, they are separated into 16 different "families" which are named after flowers. Each family has a wide range of ages and the girls live and eat together. They have a special needs school, a blind school, as well as regular school through 12th grade. The Mission also allows the girls to continue their education if they want to. It is a fascinating place that has, and is, doing some really great things for the women of India.
The next day we got a more involved tour which was pretty neat to meet some of the people and actually go in and see what what is being done. They have a group of elderly blind women that also live at the compound who are very self-sufficient. During the day they weave baskets which the mission then sells and then gives the women all the profit. It is pretty cool, probably around 20 blind women all weaving baskets and talking. While we were there they asked us to sing them a song - which we did, though somewhat hesitantly at first. They sang us a song in return which was ok but it was obvious not all of them were singing. They said not all of them knew the English songs and then they started singing "How Great Thou Art" in their mother tongue which was amazing. There was something magic about it, all the different parts being sung and the birds chirping in the background, it was very moving to me. Erin and Alynena both really enjoyed the tour of the mission and seemed really impressed by all that they were doing.
The next day we went into the big city nearby - Pune. Our initial objective was to visit 3 different ministries and then be back by dinner - needless to say this didn't happen. The day was in many ways indescribable but I will sum it up briefly so you can begin to understand. Basically it involved going to the wrong place (YMCA instead of YWAM), getting a tour we didn't want (or understand), and then having the car break down and having our non-English speaking driver try to explain to us how long it would be and what we should do. Incredibly-long-story-short - we made it home safely a little past 9:00 in a different car than we left in.
Yesterday morning we got to sleep in and recover from our long Pune experience, then we woke up, had some food, packed our bags and then were back at the train station where we caught our locomotive. It was another experience filled 18 hours of train riding greatness. We made it to our station around 8:30am where we were met by Prem and Rita. So now we are back "home" and resting for the day. We will go back to the school tonight for another fun-filled week at Asha Kiran. As of today, we will be home in less than 3 weeks, so mark your calenders and start your countdowns! Until then please pray for our remaining time in India and at the school and also for everything that is being done at the Mukti Mission.
Brad / Team India (+ Nick)

France Update

An update from Kaitlyn (7-24):
It has been some time since you have received an update from team France/Algeria and for that we are sorry. It has been a crazy few weeks in Algeria with almost no internet and when it was available it didn’t want to work. We began our adventure by taking the train from Lille to Marseilles which was a wonderful blessing in that we didn’t have to cram our team of five, Ali and Fred into a tight stuffy van. We spent one day and night in Marseilles at the House of Hope with two UPC sponsored missionaries named Amos and Moses. We were able to explore the old harbor, and took a boat out to Chateau d’If (the prison used in Count of Monte Cristo). Marseilles is such a beautiful place teaming with African culture and amazing architecture. The next morning after driving all night Fred and Ali picked us up and we headed for the ferry. We ended up waiting five hours to board the ferry, and on departing in Algeria we spent six hours waiting for customs. Algerians love to honk their car horns when they are impatient, and so we heard about ten straight hours of honking in our wait. The ferry was an experience in itself. We couldn’t get private rooms for our eighteen hour trip and so spent the time crammed into seats. We were definitely the minority among the Algerians in the full to capacity boat. They were all very curious why a bunch of Americans were on their boat. There was a very real risk that we could have been turned away because of any reason, and so we were very careful to not talk or express our Christianity. It was weird having to suppress that part of our lives, but it was only until we entered the country safely. We are thankful for the answered prayer in that we had no difficulties with entering or leaving the country. We spent our two weeks in Algeria living in Ali’s hometown of Tadmait. Algeria is split into two main people groups the Arabs, and the native Berber (Kabyle) people. We spent our entire time with the Kabyle communities which are very separate from the Arabs. Our time was spent meeting and developing friendships with Ali’s huge family, exploring different areas of the country, and visiting churches. It was amazing how much faith the Christians in Algeria have. Algeria is an Islamic country, and so for a person to choose Christianity they go against their country, community, and family. The reality of persecution is right in front of these people, and yet they love the Lord enough to sacrifice their comfort and safety to follow him. What a contrast to the freedom we have in America. The Kabyle people were very dynamic in their worship, and when singing or praying they shouted out all at once. We were so blessed to be able to worship and pray with many of our new friends. Algeria presented some interesting cultural and environmental situations. The most alarming was that the toilets consisted of a hole in the ground with no toilet paper, but instead a bucket of water. We got in the habit of carrying around a roll of toilet paper in our purses. Algeria is experiencing a shortage of water, and so everyday the water was turned off. This meant that we bathed from a bucket of water which required so much effort that by the end of it we needed another shower. In the end we toughened up and the lack of comfort was hardly noticed. In all our hard work we did find some time for fun. Algerians love to dance, and so there were many dance parties with Ali’s family. We definitely got showed up on the dance floor… they could shake their hips so fast! It was almost a hundred degrees with humidity the entire time we were there, and so to cool down we spent a couple days lounging on a beach overlooking the Mediterranean. We hired a taxi bus and took all of Ali’s nephews and nieces along. It was one big loud Algerian party the whole way. One particular day as we enjoyed the beach some men road by on Arabian stallions and offered for Kaitlyn to take a ride, and then several hours later a camel came by and both Riley and Kaitlyn got to take a spin. What a day at the beach! Our time went by far too quickly, and before we knew it we were back on the ferry to France. The trip back was uneventful and we got good rest in our private rooms with beds. We are now back in Lille for the last two weeks of our trip in which we will continue doing street evangelism and practical work. We will fill you with more adventures in our next update.
Please be praying for Algeria as a whole, but more specifically that leader will step up in the Christian communities, and that they will find a way to get proper training for discipleship.

Turkey Update

An update from Krista (7-20):
Hello =)
Just a quick update. Krista is still in Turkey, learning stuff and having a good time. Mary & Jamie are fabulous to live and work with.. they make me a better person =) Thank you for all your prayers. They're working:) What are you up to?
Oh, one month in, I finally got my first bug bite. That’s exciting because the others have been covered in bites all month. Yuck. Last night we went out to a soup restaurant with 5 others that are in the English club class that we go to teach Wed. & Fri. nights. They are all about our age (except our 41 year old ear/nose/throat doctor Vildan but she wasn’t there) and this restaurant is owned by one of the guys’ (Mehmet’s) father. I enjoyed my chicken soup. Mary & Jamie had lentil but tried the cow brain and the cow stomach, the latter was pretty gross I hear. At one point (we were sitting outside) a huge white cloud floated through the restaurant and I had no clue where it came from, except it smelled like a strange bug spray. I was thinking ‘eeek pesticides!’ and we were covering a mouths not know what was going on. Turns out that bug spray trucks fly down the street, letting off huge billows of spray to keep the bugs down. When our Turkish friends from class were little they used to chase these trucks. It was hard to avoid running past the trucks at least 3 times if you were out walking that night, like Mary and Jamie. Apparently, they say, that’s why the bugs came to find me instead of them last night. One other tidbit... we spent last weekend in Antalya for fun. We went to the Turkish bath house with Verna to experience getting scrubbed down and we also got an oil massage. I recommend that everyone go at some point. We loved it. It was pretty cool. If you’d like to know just what went on, let me know and I’ll fill you in. I will say that it involves giant soap bubbles, a large hot marble slab and little modesty. Men and women both go. Not everybody likes it. The students in the post-high school class have only gone a few times so maybe its more for the older Turks;) We’re definitely going again before we come home J
Everyone take care! I’ll upload some pictures later after we’ve put them on the laptop and viewed our updated slideshow to Mary’s pick of eclectic with an emphasis on 60s/70s rock n’ roll tunes. I hope you’re having a good summer J Krista

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Croatia Update

An email from Rachel (7-13):
Hey Brandon,
We are doing well here in Croatia and we now are mostly focusing on planning for ROM and the new Economic Diplomacy Seminar. We are under a bit of pressure because we have so much to do in the next day. I will just quickly tell you our prayers, and be off to bed. Team unity: we have been under pressure and it has been creating some tensions. Visa/tickets: Two students from Iraq are trying to come to ROM and we all really want them to come. Safety for travelers: lots of people are headed to Fuzine. Hazim: he is a ROM regular and he has been getting surgery and we are praying for healing.
In Christ,

Chile Update

An update from Thad (7-9):
Things That Make Your Day In Chile:
Finding Toilet Paper in the Bathroom
Random 60degree Days During Chile's Winter
Finding One Of The Two Starbucks In The Country
Hearing "Easy Like Sunday Morning " by Lionel Richie Coming From The Neighbors House
Having Fresh Bread At Every Meal and at the Same Time Getting More Than Bread For Dinner
Witnessing The Best Sunsets Known To Man Daily
Getting Three DVD's for $2
Watching The Four Year Old In Our House Dance And Be A Kid
Dancing With That Four Year
Picking Up ´Sahne-Nuss´ (Chocolate) At The Candy Store On Or Way Home From Work

Other Stuff That Team Chile's Up To:
Ester, Michelle and Sarah having been doing a variety of work at the school from planning an end of the quarter party for the kids, to sanding and painting, and going to other areas around Santiago and doing street evangelism through skits, songs and dances. Thad is finishing up the detail work in the bathroom and is starting on the other bathroom later this week. After the head pastor saw the work Taylor was doing in the school's bathroom, he brought him back to his house where Taylor is now doing a remodel of the bathroom in the head pastors house.
Last week we had three day in a row of heavy rain and most of southern Chile was flooded, and it was all over the news. They acted like they had never had three days of rain before. This Sunday we'll be heading down south to with a group of college aged kids from the area for a week and will be doing a variety of different work while in the south. (To all you concerned parents and friends the area we are going is not flooded.)
Be praying that we can continue to have patience and understanding with those we live and interact with on a daily bases. Along with our trip to the south this upcoming week. Continue to be praying for all of our health, and safety.
Thanks so much for the support and prayers that you have given us. Our time here is flying by, and we can't believe that we only have three weeks left until we return home. We look forward to spending time with all of you when we get back.
Team Chile
Ester, Michelle, Sarah, Taylor and Thad

India Update

An email from Brad (7-14):
Hello all, we are uncharacteristically short on time this week, so my epic tome / weekly update will have to wait until Sunday afternoon but I thought I would write and just let everyone know that we are all safe in India. As you may or may not be aware there was some train bombings in Mumbai, India this past week. Location wise Mumbai is a little over 600 miles from Bangalore and as far as our week goes we are out at the school, which is outside the city, and don't use any form of public transportation. Next week we did have plans of traveling to Mumbai by train but obviously those have been changed and we will be staying in a town called Pune instead. I have full confidence that our host-dad/personal-travel-agent Prem is aware of the situation and dangers involved and would not send us anywhere that could be unsafe. Thanks to everyone who has concerns about our safety and well being, but let me assure you - We are in great hands. I will write again on Sunday with a more substantial update, so have a good couple of days until then!

An email from Brad (7-15):
Hello all! I know I sent an email yesterday but thought I would send some real news and stories aside from "we are safe." This week we had our trip to Mysore, which started very early last Saturday when we woke up at 5:15am to catch our bus to Mysore. Surprisingly enough at 8:15 we were still in Bangalore, only having been picked up from our stop and dropped off at the tour office where we waited for the real bus. Soon enough the "White Palace" arrived and we boarded and were on move. The bus ride was a pretty good, it gave a great chance to see some of the more rural and developing parts of India. We drove for a little over an hour and stopped for breakfast/tea which we didn't feel like so we just stretched our legs and watched with fascination a set of wild monkeys hanging out by the restaurant. From there we drove a little while longer and soon stopped at a shop where they sold everything touristy under the sun, and to top it all off we got a 10% discount! Unfortunately they are so eager to sell the minute you look at an item someone has placed it in your hands, told you the price, how fine a quality it is, and shown you other shapes and sizes in case you don't like the one you have; definitely high-pressure sales.
From there we finally made it to the first sight-seeing stop which was a large temple. The second we stepped off the bus and everyone selling things on the street realized that we weren't wearing long sleeve shirts and talcum powder on our faces, and we were in fact white we were surrounded by a hoard of people selling jewelry, sandalwood anything, incense, pictures and pony rides (seriously). It was very overwhelming but we marched towards the temple and made it there with relative ease considering. At the temple we took off our shoes and left them with the "shoe-watcher" who placed our shoes on the step above everyone else's, which I thought was kind of weird but wasn't going to complain as long as my sandals were waiting for me when I got back (more on that in a second). We walked through the temple which was a cool experience, it is definitely a beautiful piece of architecture, it was slightly weird that we were mixed in as tourists while other people were in the midst of devout religious ceremonies, but it was still cool. When we got out we were again met by hoards of people attempting to sell us all the things our lives were incomplete without but my first mission was to get my sandals. There were there when I returned and for the small fee of 10 Rupees I could get them back (10 rupees is about a quarter). Later I found out the true fee was only 2 rupees but since we were white, western and rich and had received the special treatment of having our sandals on another level the 8 rupee increase was kindly added. Upon finding this out I was a little upset but I figure each of our ~16 cent donations will help the economy.
From the temple we went and saw the Mysore Palace which was beautiful ( After the palace we visited another temple on a mountain. I skipped the temple as I was more concerned with the view of the city from the mountain, which was quite breathtaking. After the temple we were dropped off and corralled through another shop and then taken to an old church and then we made our way to the famous garden. Lunch was in there somewhere but everything has blurred together in my mind and the sequence of events isn't as clear as it could be. But I digress, the trip to the gardens took a good while and we were excited as when we told anyone that we were going to Mysore the first question was always about the gardens. We finally arrived and saw that there was going to be a "light illumination" at 7:00. We had about 15 minutes to kill before 7 so we walked around a little bit admiring the garden-ness of the gardens when in our hearts we really wanted to see the fireworks, laser show, elaborate light displays and dancing fairies the light illumination surely entailed. At 7:00 sharp a bell rang and suddenly all the lights in the park turned on, making the plain, boring water fountain we saw moments ago now an exciting water fountain as the red light underneath it was on - we were convinced this was the precursor to the garden light show of the century. A little past 7:30, having waited and walked through a majority of the park we realized that the "light illumination" was merely that - they had turned on the lights and nothing more. Apparently the fact that there was lights and that they stayed on for an extended period of time was a marketable feat in India. Slightly dejected and a little disappointed we headed back to the bus.
The rest of the trip for me is just a series of still images of me waking up at various points on the trip home. Sometime around 9:30 we stopped for dinner which I wasn't really interested in. By 1:00am we were safely back in our Indian abode and quickly went to bed thereafter as our Mysore adventure had worn us out. All in all it was a great trip, some very interesting sights and sounds and a number of great adventures we won't soon forget.
Other than the Mysore trip we spent the week at the school doing our usual regime of teaching, playing, eating and sleeping (not necessarily in that order). In a grand foreign exchange of information we are slowly learning the rules and joys of cricket while we share with the boys and Nick the true greatness of baseball, it has been a good experience so far.
Next week we are at the school for Monday and then Tuesday afternoon we board a train for a 5 day trip in which a majority of the time we will spend at the Mukti Mission. The train ride is a mere 18 hours with the stop we need lasting a good 3 minutes at best. It will certainly test our traveling ability but I am hopeful that we will either make it there safely or have to be emergency airlifted out of the country, either way it will make for a good email next Sunday.
Aside from that we would just ask for prayer for the country of India and the people and families affected by the train bombings earlier this week and that in our own travels we would make it to our destinations safely. Thank you all and God bless!
Brad / Team India

Turkey Update

An email from Mary (7-14):
Mary here…all is well in Turkey! We are enjoying spending time at the English language school two nights a week. We engage in conversation with six students ranging from ages 17-41. Sometimes, it’s difficult to carry conversation, but at our last class, one student really began to open up and it was so much fun. When we realize a miscommunication, we all laugh, and then it’s as if we all speak the same language and understand each other. We have class tonight and afterward, we are all going to a soup restaurant. One student shared that his father owns a famous “soap restaurant,” which we eventually deciphered as a “soup restaurant.” The Turks say cow stomach soup is there favorite, so we’ll see what we end up tasting. We are excited to spend time with the Turkish people in a casual setting.
Last weekend, we had the privilege of touring Ephesus and a few other ancient cities. It was incredible. We walked on the same streets as Paul! Also, we saw the tomb of St. John. Learning all the history of these ruins is so captivating to me. I am grateful for the experience.
We received a timely email of encouragement from Art Beals. He wrote, “Remember, the most important part of your summer will be…just being you! As Americans, we always want to figure out what we can “do.” This is exactly what we have been struggling with. Sometimes, we doubt whether we’re impacting anyone, but we have been encouraged through these feelings. Lydia has assured us that we have “blessed their socks off.” She said they don’t know how they would have made the transition into life as parents and business owners without us, and doubt whether the store would have opened as planned . We are confident that we have made a difference for the VanDyk family. Our main prayer in preparing to come to Turkey was to be an encouragement to the long-term missionaries here. In that aspect, our trip has thus far been a success. Ben and Verna remind us that if we did nothing but live here and pray, that would be enough. We’re spending time with God and learning to trust him… trusting that he is working through us even when we can’t see it. As team Chile observed, serving God is not what you expect.

Malawi Update

An email from Greta (7-14):
Hey friends,
Writing from an actual internet cafe this time, our team is in Lilongwe (capital city of Malawi) for the weekend to plan for our big trip with the kids coming up. We're taking all of them to Lake Malawi, it's an annual camp they have, and they are SO excited about it, they keep asking us about "the trip to the lake." Hopefully we'll be able to show them a good time. :)
Rode here first in the Chiwengo Village's COTN director's car-- a 7-seat minivan which we managed to squeeze 11 of us into. Then into a minibus which also put us four to a seat. Economy class on the way home is going to feel so gosh darn roomy, I'm looking forward to it.
It's amazing the things I realize I still do take for granted, until those as well are taken away and we're on one more self-improving adventure. It's like Calvin's dad in that comic always told him, "You're building character!" Working on building more character. I'd told you all before that Chiwengo village is very "African"-- I've realized that that was a gross misinterpretation... Chiwengo, with it's electricity and running water that usually works, the brick houses with multiple rooms, the tree lined streets, the furniture, etc..... is quite posh, we're lucky to be in the place we're at. We have seen many mud/straw huts and poor, poor people; everyone is outside here because there's no place to really be inside. I joke about bucket baths and cockroach/ant infestations (cockroaches are hanging out with us too, they think we are so cool, they all want to hang out with us, every single cockroach in Chiwengo.) But honestly, I'm feeling pampered. Praise the Lord for mattresses and roofs and bathrooms and toilets and all those amazing things. Our new stove has two burners that don't work which prompted an, "Oh yeah, working stoves are GREAT," from all of us that had gotten used to cooking our dinners on all four.
We're definitely settling into our routine: we make breakfast and have devotions in the morning, help the aunties in the houses after that (make lunch or do chores), lunch, siesta, after siesta we either tutor the kids or do evangelism with the kids to the nearby villages (that's where we see a lot of the really sad situations, those are tough to take in.) Then it's tea time which I LOVE, I LOVE TEA TIME, then play with the kids play play play, then dinner, then evening devotions, and then bed. Erica and I have teamed up to teach the 5 and 6=year-olds in Standard One during tutoring. They don't understand us for the most part, but our "supervising teacher" is occasionally able to understand us enough to translate to the kids what we're saying while she nurses her baby. The baby gets nursed the whole time, this is one kid in Malawi who is well-nourished. The kids hop around and lean in their chairs and become FASCINATED with the pencil sharpener... so we do crazy things to keep their attention. I made them spell out the ABC's with their hips the other day, and only afterwards realized that might have been innapropriate. (It wasn't though.) Guitar is a constant source of amusement for them too, so that gets brought along. It's also a good time to read them stories in English and hear them try to pronounce the words, these kids are so freaking adorable. After anyone gets a right answer, we all yell: "Well done, well done! Sure! Keep! It! Up! YEAAAAHHH!!" We do that about 30 times per lesson, but when the kids say it, it comes out, "WELLO DONE, WELLO DONE, SHU-AH, KEEP EET UP, YEEAAHH!"' And no matter how many times we do it, they finish with clapping their hands and jumping, on their feet, so exuberant. Like they've just won the lottery. Every single time. This is what I think about when I'm down. IT's great to see these kids that are healthy and happy enough to develop attitudes, to misbehave, to manipulate us with their cuteness, to goof off. It's hard to teach them like that, but I so love watching them goof off. I wish I could tell you stories about so many different kids, but there's not time or space here.
We've been playing hosts and hostesses to a number of visitors from the states coming which gets tiresome when the visitors are rude, but is okay when they're nice. I think we're all looking forward to the solid time with the kids and the change of pace that the lake will provide.
--- SKIP ---
The rest of the team is doing well, still no major spats, praise the Lord. The initial obligation to be polite to one another is wearing off I think, but we're rolling with it and turning the sarcasm into jokes. It's nice to be getting to know one another this well, honestly. African scenery is looking familiar. The boys have invented a Banana Quest 2006 since we eat so many bananas... they make it their mission to go scout out bananas on their bikes every day and come home, triumphant. We're all getting really good at hand washing our clothes. Oh this is funny: yesterday, Ben tried to make cookies and they turned out HORRIBLE! :) Mixed up the tablesppon of baking soda with the teaspoon. A kid told him : "Uncle Ben, the girls in your house are good cooks, you should just make THEM cook for you." We're clearly not doing much to break down negative stereotypes about gender roles yet, but Erica and I HAVE been enjoying making banana bread. :) And actually, we are planning to meet with some of the older girls on Sunday to talk about ideas about sex, marriage.... along those lines. Girls here get married at 13... sometimes younger.. They don't finish school, get pregnant... get AIDS? So we'll be talking about what is maybe worth holding out for. Working on those stereotypes?
--- SKIP---
God Bless, miss you guys,

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Serbia - June 25-July 6

Hey everyone,
I know that I may write more than others - I hope that this will give you a good idea of what we have been up to... though if you're not a fan of wordy people, please feel free to skim. ;) Drew's updates are great too! :)
Take care, Erin

PS - We're currently in Montenegro - the newest country in the world! Expect updates when we return between July 14-17... We would appreciate prayers for safe travels as we head to the coast this afternoon.


Sunday, June 25

Due to the fact that there is no Protestant church on the Serbian side of the city, we headed to the Albanian side to go to church on Sunday morning. One of the formalities between going from one side to the other is that you have to change your license plates on the car each time you pass back and forth. We learned from the first day we arrived that this was an important custom, because the Albanian side has license plates with “UN” on them while the Serbian side has license plates with “KM” on them. “KM” stands for Kovoska Mitrovica, which is the Serbian name for the city. However, Albanians do not recognize that name, so having a “KM” license plate on the Albanian side could potentially make your car a target. So, that morning, just as we had on many others, we paused before going over a bridge to the Albanian side to put on our “UN” license plates. When we arrived at the church, we found a beautiful building only recently built with a large sanctuary, fellowship hall, and even classrooms. We learned that there were two groups of missionaries working there – one team from the United States and one team from Finland. However, the family from Finland will soon be leaving and the United States team will be taking over fulltime. There is a small congregation there that can vary widely depending on the Sunday, though when we attended the service there were about fifteen to twenty people. We met a number of Albanians as well as a number of policemen from Africa (Nigeria and Zambia), who are serving for a year in Kosovo along with all the other UN and NATO soldiers. We sang in Albanian and English and instead of having the pastor share a message, he invited anyone to come forward and share anything that God had placed on their heart. Annika and I both shared pieces of our testimony and enjoyed listening to the words of many other amazing people (almost everyone spoke in English). Following the service we spoke with many of the church members and then went to the city center on the Albanian side to meet up with Nehat. Nehat is a young man who is very interested in potentially becoming a pastor someday himself, though he is also relatively new to Christianity and has not been able to share his faith with his family. His story is similar to that of many students that we have met, both Serbian and Albanian, who are unable to tell their families about their belief in God, because they fear potential consequences (such as being kicked out of their house) from their Orthodox and Muslim family members. We enjoyed getting to know him, though ultimately it was time for us to head back home on the Serbian side of the city. When we arrived at Kuka Maria and Nicky’s flat, we decided to go on a walk through the hills to see the ruins of a nearby medieval fortress. Unfortunately a rainstorm began and we did not make it entirely to the top, though we made it quite a ways up and were able to appreciate how beautiful this part of the country is. Kosovo is such a rich, green region – there are so many trees and the land is much more mountainous than the central area of Serbia where Belgrade is located. There is a lot of agriculture here, though you cannot help but hope that the people here will find a way to preserve the environment. There is so much natural beauty and yet the evidence of pollution is also everywhere – garbage can be seen on the banks of every river, on the sides of the roads, and in overflowing dumpsters throughout the city. Still, as we stood up in the hills and looked down at the view below, everything appeared peaceful – however, as if to keep us from forgetting the tension that exists here, a lightening storm could be seen in the distance. Then again, perhaps you could consider the lightening storm to be a reminder of God’s power – He will calm the storm in His time, we must be patient and believe.

Monday, June 26

On Monday we met up with the Finnish family that has been working with the Albanian Protestant church to help them get ready for a kids camp to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday. They have put on this camp for several years now, though it is only for Albanian children. Kuka Maria, Annika, and I went with the pastor and his family to an amazing camp facility in the mountains (about forty-five minutes away from the city). We spent the day cleaning the facility – mopping and sweeping, wiping down surfaces, and setting up a basketball hoop and volleyball net. We were told that the facility had been built by Christians from Germany after the 2001 conflicts, although I could not help but wonder how much use it gets – how many kids in this area have a chance to go to a camp like this? After tidying things up with some challenging cleaning supplies, we headed back to the city and worked with Kuka Maria and Nicky to prepare for the girls club that meets weekly at their home. The girls club usually meets every Tuesday, though because we were going to be at the kids camp the next day we had to have it the day before – Annika and I were excited to get to know all the little girls in the neighborhood, considering Kuka Maria and Nicky have been very well received and many girls love to come. We had only four girls that afternoon, though we had a great time playing games with them (like “poison candy” with some Jelly Bellies from home that we brought as a gift), making cards for one of their friends who just moved away to a new village, and performing a chair skit for them (there is a chair with the word “sin” on it and someone gets stuck to it). The girls were between 7-10 and they were all smiles all afternoon. You could tell that they really love spending time with Nicky and Kuka Maria and they seemed to want to stay forever (we finally had to bring the game of “Red Light, Green Light” to an end, much to their dismay). All in all, it was very inspiring for us to see the impact that Nicky and Kuka Maria have been able to have within this community through building relationships with families. They believe that they are the first missionaries to work with Serbians in Kosovo, considering it is much more common for missionaries to work with Albanians in this region. I can only hope that in the future more missionaries will see that needs exist within both populations and it is essential that Christians do fall victim to stereotypes, but rather come forward committed to reaching out to anyone and everyone in need. That evening we went to have ice cream and watch one of the World Cup games at a café next to the main bridge. We met a young man from the United States who has come to Kosovo to work with the World Health Organization. Specifically he will be working with the local Roma community in Mitrovica, because there have been instances of children having health problems due to high exposure to lead. This is a really interesting topic, considering where Kuka Maria and Nicky live the water is not safe to drink due to high levels of lead. Unfortunately many people in the region, such as the Roma, do not necessarily have the luxury to be able to filter their drinking water and this could pose potentially significant health risks to Roma, Serbians and Albanians alike. There is potential controversy in the instance of the Roma, because there is some concern about the fact that the Roma were relocated to the area that they live in now by government officials. Certainly it is unsettling to think about the possibility that people would be moved to an area in which their health could be compromised, though this is what this doctor will be looking into for the World Health Organization. Another random thing about this area is that everyone gets free water and electricity. I know that this may sound unbelievable, but it is true – no one pays anything for water and electricity in their homes (and I assume the same goes for businesses, etc.). Nicky and Kuka Maria were not able to explain exactly why this is and who is covering the bill in the meantime (UN, NATO?), though that was yet another surprising discovery in this region.

Tuesday, June 27

Today we spent the day with around thirty Albanian children from ages 7-11 in the mountains of Kosovo. Although we have been picking up bits of Serbian, we felt like we were back at stage one when we realized that we knew nothing of Albanian… However, the kids were great and many of them spoke a bit of English – we also had a number of people helping with the camp that could assist us with translating. We started the day with breakfast and then moved into games (volleyball, soccer, basketball, jump rope, etc.). Considering it was quite hot outside a number of kids stayed inside working on puzzles and games (“Guess Who?” and “Twister” were quire popular). When I first went outside to see how things were going, I noticed five kids off in the distance who were watching closely all of the kids at the camp as they played all the outdoor games. Other members of the camp staff also saw the kids and noted that they were kids from the local village. The five kids continued to advance towards the facility slowly, as if trying to decide whether or not they were allowed to come play with everyone else. All of the Albanian kids had paid 1 Euro to attend the camp (primarily to cover the cost of taking a bus to the facility and food – a great deal), though I was pleased to see that the staff wholeheartedly welcomed the kids to join in with everyone else. It was wonderful to see their faces light up as they were invited to participate in games, eat lunch, sing songs, and listen to Bible stories. Although I enjoyed working with all of the kids I met there, I felt that those five little faces touched my heart the most: one of the little girls put a banana in her pocket and tried to hide it, one of the little boys always seemed to be chewing on a piece of straw, and the other little boy had a deformed hand with only three fingers that he always hid behind his back, as if he was afraid to let anyone see it. When at last we left the camp at the end of the day, the five kids all stood to the side and watched all of the kids walk towards the bus. After a few minutes, they turned and headed off into the surrounding fields – before long I could barely see their heads among the tall grass as they disappeared home. The camp was a fantastic experience for the kids that attended, considering it was a perfect escape from life in the city. Unfortunately it was our last full day in Kosovo, because Annika and I had to leave the next day. The camp was also going to take place on Wednesday (tomorrow) with older kids (12-16), though due to commitments back in Belgrade we would have to be on a bus early the next morning. So, we said goodbye to everyone there at the end of the day and headed back to the village where Nicky and Kuka Maria live. We had a nice evening talking with both of them about how valuable we felt that our time here had been and how much we admired the work that they are doing. Before long it was time for bed and we fell asleep in our cozy beds for one last night in Kosovo.

Wednesday, June 28

On Wednesday Annika and I went into Mitrovica to catch the bus back to Belgrade. We were told that we were going to take a “direct” bus to Belgrade, which would probably be incredibly fast in comparison to the ride we had on the way to Kosovo. However, when you hear something like that you know that that would just be too easy. As we said goodbye to Nicky before boarding the bus, she overheard the bus driver say that the air conditioning on the bus was not working. The bus was quite large and full of people, though there were no windows to open – the only way to get air in was to have the doors open, which was what happened for the entire trip. Annika and I settled into our seats, though soon realized what an incredibly hot trip this was going to be… The bus made its way through the mountains, stopping at the international border, and then continuing further into the mountains. The narrow roads and constant curves were a challenge for any passenger not to succumb to car sickness, as we discovered when the guy next to us became quite ill at one point. Annika and I tried to keep our sense of humor going by playing silly games (there’s nothing quite like playing “I Spy…” when you are the only people on the bus who can speak English and there’s not much to spy…) and talking about anything and everything under the sun. At one point we had a chance to get out and get a cold bottle of water, which we joked was the highlight of the experience. After seven and a half hours (there was also some construction going on, of course), we reached Belgrade and escaped from our bus, which felt much more like a sauna. Although Belgrade is also quite warm, we had never been so glad to have fresh air and be outside. Samuil picked us up and brought us back to our flat, where we discovered that the boys had been planning an evening of American football followed by a BBQ. We had around thirty people meeting up at our flat to head down to the field nearby for some football and then come back for some awesome Serbian BBQ. Samuil helped us pick up meat (the meat is already BBQed, so no worries), bread, and salad (just tomatoes and cucumbers, as usual), as well as drinks, and we were ready to go. Our flat was buzzing with voices and laughter for hours, as we had a chance to speak with students and just enjoy fellowship with each other. Despite the long bus ride earlier in the day, I felt so happy to see all of our friends there, considering so many of the faces have become familiar and everyone welcomed Annika and I back with so much excitement. Many people asked us about Kosovo, considering few Serbians have traveled there, especially in recent years. Again, it seems so strange to me to think that certain areas of your own country are off-limits to you and you fear for your safety to visit, yet that is the reality here. Still, I know that our trip to Kosovo was eye-opening for me and I hope that God will help Annika and I discover how we can share what we learned there with those around us, considering people are anxious to know about the situation there.

Thursday, June 29

For some time we had been talking about organizing a trip to see the south of Serbia and meet up with students from EUS in that area. Although Annika and I were in the south only the day before, we decided that Thursday was the best day to drive three hours down to the city of Nis to visit students. The drive down to Nis was long, yet very worthwhile. When we arrived we met up with Valentino, who is very involved with EUS in Nis. He will be going into the army in the Fall, so it is important that other students come forward to help with the ministry in this area while he is away for around nine months. Although it was late in the evening by the time that we arrived, we headed with Valentino down to a café on the river by the fortress to meet with some students. We met up with Sanya, Tanya, and Nicoli at the café, who were all amazing students to speak with. I talked with Sanya primarily, who is a college student very interested in human rights and political activities within the city. I really enjoyed speaking to her about her experiences during the war (her father is Serbian and her mother is Bosnian, so her family left Bosnia for Serbia during the recent conflicts) and also her political involvement with the Civil Alien party. We talked about the upcoming anniversary of Srebrenica, perhaps one of the worst incidents of genocide since World War II, although it is not very widely publicized. We also spoke about the challenges faced by the International Criminal Tribunal in ensuring that war criminals are brought to justice. As a political scientist, it was one of my favorite conversations of the trip, considering this area is fascinating when it comes to politics and it is fascinating to hear the perspectives of those who live here. That night we slept in the EUS office in Nis, which was a lovely little flat converted into a room for worship, a kitchen and a bathroom. When we headed to bed we were eager to see more of the city in the morning, considering Nis is a very beautiful and distinct city of its own.

Friday, June 30

In the morning we met up with Nicoli, one of the students from the night before, who helped us find a bakery for some breakfast and make our way into the city center to find Samuil and Mimi, who works with EUS in the nearby town of Leskovac. Although it was a long walk in the hot sun, we enjoyed speaking with Nicoli about life in Nis and getting to know him better. When we reached Samuil and Mimi we continued to walk around the city for a bit, which gave us a chance to appreciate the mixture of architecture – there is a strong Turkish influence here. Ultimately we loaded up into the car, said goodbye to Nicoli, and headed to Leskovac to have lunch and meet with more students. Leskovac is famous in Serbia for its BBQ, so we stopped to sample some of the local cuisine – and we all agreed it was perhaps the best food we had ever tasted! Following our adventure with BBQ, we went to a local café to meet students from Leskovac. We spent some time talking with Sara, Tamara, Tanya, Philip, and a few other students, which gave us a chance to learn more about life in the south of Serbia. I spoke for a few minutes to everyone about some experiences in my life in which I have really seen God at work, which was a great opportunity for me to share something a bit more personal with those around me. When we at last said goodbye, Samuil told us that we had another stop in Leskovac before we returned home, which turned out to be something entirely different than anything we had previously seen. We went to visit Pastor Selim in the Roma community of Leskovac, who is leading a church of over a thousand Roma in a gigantic tent – you really have to see it to believe it. It made me think of all the “big tent revivals” I have heard about in past generations, though there is an incredible ministry taking place in this area. Pastor Selim showed us a room with a computer in which they have began to broadcast a Christian radio station in the local area, as well as a large building where the church meets during the Winter (the tent is too cold). It was amazing to walk into the tent and hear about how on most Sundays there is only standing room, with all the young people standing so that older people can have a seat. We also met Pastor Selim’s two daughters and had a chance to go see his new home. Pastor Selim attended Bible school in England and receives a stipend from England to run his ministry here, though he has an incredible story. In recent years him and his family have faced increasing persecution from the Muslim leaders within the Roma community, so much so that his wife was seriously injured recently and his family could no longer live in their home. However, something amazing happened – a foreigner came to visit him and said that God had put it on his heart to give Pastor Selim a large amount of money. With this money he was able to buy a new house for his family in a safer part of the Roma community. His wife and his son were out working so we did not get to meet them, though it was great to learn more about what life is like for this pastor in Leskovac, who is leading perhaps the largest Protestant church in all of Serbia. Finally we headed back to Belgrade and had a chance to observe yet another awesomely powerful lightening storm as we were driving. Nada was kind enough to prepare a wonderful dinner for us, so we gathered at Samuil and Nada’s home for a group dinner that gave us all a chance to talk about what we had experienced in Nis and Leskovac.

Saturday, July 1

On Saturday morning, our team decided to take Nada to coffee, because we really wanted a chance to thank her for hosting us at her home so many times and also to see her off, considering she was going to fly to Australia that night for a Christian Medical Ethnics conference. We had a wonderful time talking with her over iced coffee in local Café Domino and we will certainly miss her while she is away for two weeks (no doubt, Samuil will miss her too!). However, it sounds like quite an adventure, so we hope that she will have an amazing trip! After our time with Nada, Annika and I walked down to the river to catch up on some reading – we are trying very hard to keep up with the Deputation challenge (reading through the entire New Testament over the course of our trip). However, eventually it was time to go back to Novi Sad to see an American band, Next Exit, perform in a free Christian concert in the city theater. Annika and I jumped on the bus, considering the boys were practicing baseball for a bit at ADA with the Serbian team and had planned to come later. When we arrived in Novi Sad we met up with Zeljko and Goran and proceeded to head to the city theater to experience the concert. The band, Next Exit, had performed in Belgrade earlier in the week on Tuesday, which Annika and I had missed due to being in Kosovo. However, this time we had a chance to see the whole show, which was great – the band plays a lot of blues, jazz, and other random music of their own and also weaves in a message about God’s impact on their lives. There were lots of people there and I think that in general people had a really good time, especially considering it was free entertainment. During the concert, Annika and I met several girls who attend the Christian Fellowship Church in Novi Sad and the boys also did a great job reaching out to new people to start building friendships. When the concert ended we walked around the city for a while, admiring the elegant architecture and charming streets, and also just catching up with each other. We had not seen Zeljko and Goran in a while and we also had several new friends with us, David and Boyana, who were a lot of fun to talk with. Eventually we headed to Goran’s home to spend the night at his family’s house and tried to get a bit of sleep before two church services the next day… we were happy to be back in Novi Sad and eager to see what church would be like in Novi Sad, which is much more liberal with regard to permitting Protestantism than Belgrade.

Sunday, July 2

In the morning we went first to the Pentecostal Church, which instantly made us feel like we were back at church in the United States. The church building was a huge room with lots of comfy chairs and an energetic worship band. The facility is quite new and construction is still taking place, because they are building a Bible school adjacent to the church. It was very exciting to see how the members of the church have really come together to help bring the ministry to where it is today with the new buildings and all. The church service began with a number of songs in Serbian (which we tried our best to sing along with) and then a time of prayer for a baby recently born to members of the congregation. Our team was introduced by the pastor at one point in the service, though we did not share anything – we had a chance to just let it all sink in, thanks to the help of Zeljko’s translation of the service. After the service we met Zeljko’s parents, who invited us to come to their home for lunch and spend the night at their home. Considering lunch would not be for a few hours, we went out to explore the city a bit with Zeljko, David, and Goran and enjoy some Serbian pancakes for breakfast. At that point it was time to head to Zeljko’s home, which we soon discovered was one of the hidden gems of Novi Sad. Zeljko’s parents have a beautiful rose garden that spans around an acre behind their house and they actually have a business selling the roses that they grow. The yard has amazing landscaping with many fruit trees and it just feels like the perfect place to spend a summer day – sitting under a tree, smelling the roses, eating a plum (if you like plums…). We also found their home to be very comfortable, as evidenced by the way in which most of our team was able to go inside and take a nap prior to lunch without hesitation. I stayed up talking with Zeljko’s brother, Goran, and his mother, as well as writing some postcards to friends and family back home. When we at last sat down to lunch, we all sat at a long table in the front yard under the trees and enjoyed many delicious courses of food. That meal will be one of my favorite memories of Serbia, considering sitting there together at that table it felt like we were one huge family – and we were, in Christ. I will always be grateful for the way in which Zeljko and his family welcomed us into their home so warmly and graciously. After lunch came to an end we had to hurry to our second church service of the day at the Christian Fellowship Church in Novi Sad. We had visited this church briefly when we came to Novi Sad a while ago, though this was a chance for us to experience a service there and meet the congregation. We knew we were in another world when we were handed headphones, through which we could hear an English translation of the service – what a treat! The pastor invited us all to come forward and we introduced ourselves briefly, at which point Annika shared a bit about something that God has been teaching her lately. There were many people at the service and the church even had a balcony – again, we could not help but contrast this experience with what we have been a part of in other parts of the country. Samuil shared the message at the service and then we all proceeded to go to the little café that they created in the church. Several girls in the church actually work at the café and help serve the coffee to people, who can sit at a few tables or outside in a covered area. At the café I met a woman whose husband is the assistant pastor of the church. She told me about how she has spent the last few years trying to develop a Christian crisis pregnancy center, which would potentially be the first of its kind in Serbia. It was interesting to speak with her about this project she has taken on and hear about how she is now in the process of seeking outside funding to carry out the plans she has developed. I was really impressed to see someone taking so much initiative on a project of this type – and I certainly hope that things will go well for her in her efforts. While at the café we received an invitation from the pastor to come to his house for something to eat. When we made it to his home we met his wife and children, who are such a lovely family. We enjoyed speaking with them for some time and snacking on Serbian pizza (tomato sauce is just ketchup here – not quite like at home). At last we thanked them for the opportunity to learn more about their ministry and headed over to see the Next Exit concert taking place in the city outdoors. We made it for the last few songs of the evening and then returned to Zeljko’s home to get some sleep after a wonderfully eventful day.

Monday, July 3

In the morning we enjoyed a delightful breakfast and said goodbye to Zeljko’s family before heading over to the local student center near the university. When we arrived with our bags at the student center we made an interesting discovery – Samuil’s car had been towed by a “spider” (I guess that is what a tow truck translates to over here), because he parked in a not so legal spot. While Samuil went to recover his car, we had a chance to meet up with several students at a café and had some wonderful conversations. I especially loved talking with one boy in particular about politics in the United States and what it might mean to be a Christian involved with politics. Eventually we all piled into Samuil’s recovered car to return to Belgrade. When we arrived back in the city we went over to the weekly EUS meeting, which was a very informal meeting with the intention of giving the students a chance to just catch up with each other. It was nice to speak with so many students, enjoy some refreshments, and listen to a “brief” message from Samuil about staying true to our faith during summer – plus students heard lots about the upcoming EUS camp for college students in Zlatibor (July 20-27). We know that it will not be easy for many of these students to come up with the 35 Euros that the camp costs, though we hope that students will still come forward to let us know that they are interested – Samuil is committed to helping all interested students make it there (we hope to have many scholarships to offer students). Following the EUS meeting, we invited students to come over the our house to watch one of the World Cup games and spent the evening cheering competitively for our favorite teams (Germany vs. Italy…).

Tuesday, July 4

We have been looking forward to July 4 for many reasons – including the fact that Samuil told us he would give us the day off and also the fact that all American citizens registered with the embassy were invited to attend an officially July 4 celebration at the ambassador’s house. We began our day with our usual team Bible study, as we continued to progress through the book of Mark. Following our Bible study, we held our weekly team meeting as a chance to check in with each other and bring up any questions, concerns, praises, etc. At that point we decided that we wanted to check out the local Chinese Market, which is an area in New Belgrade with many little shops run primarily by Chinese immigrants (though many Chinese families have lived here for generations now). We were fortunate that Slobodan wanted to come with us, so we were able to catch up with him and also get insider tips about the cool things to check out at the market. Unfortunately we soon discovered that only half of the Chinese Market is open on Tuesdays, though it was still a lot of fun to check things out and explore. After venturing through the Chinese Market for a while, we headed back to the flat to get ready for our big celebration at the ambassador’s house. When we returned to the flat we met Rachel, a college student from Chicago who will be joining our team for the rest of the time that we are here – she will also be staying longer than us to attend the ROM (Renewing Our Minds) conference in Croatia (and then she will encounter another Deputation team in action!). Although Rachel had just arrived today, she was also excited to check out the festivities, so we all loaded up into taxis and made our way to the party. When we pulled up to the house, we all felt our jaws drop. Ambassador Polt lives in a beautiful colonial style home complete with a gigantic American flag and the grounds surrounding the house were decorated elaborately with red, white and blue everywhere. We each paid 500 dinars to get in (around $7) and soon discovered that the party was being exclusively catered by… McDonald’s. I suppose that was the most “American” food available – so we lined up for double cheeseburgers, fries, apple pies, and sundaes (chocolate, strawberry, or caramel). We also stumbled upon the huge American flag cake, which looked incredible. We wandered the grounds for a while, coming across tennis courts, a swimming pool, a stage for a live band, lots of play areas of kids, and food stations galore. At one point Ambassador Polt came forward to read the message from President Bush to commemorate July 4 and his daughter sang the national anthem. We had a wonderful evening snacking, talking with other Americans, and enjoying our national holiday is such a unique environment. After several hours we realized it was time to leave, though we were fortunate to have an opportunity to speak with the ambassador and his family (his wife and daughter) for some time about the work that they do in Serbia. It was great to see how much they love Serbia and want to invest their energy in projects that will help the people of Serbia rebuild their nation in a constructive way after so many difficult years of conflict. They spoke about how earlier in the day they had a program to celebrate many of the “local heroes,” people who have received small business loans and been able to create thriving businesses to support themselves and their families. They also noted how they have been working on a number of exchange programs for students from Serbia to have the chance to study abroad and experience life in the United States, considering the study abroad programs at the universities here are not as developed as those in our colleges back home. Before leaving we were able to get a group picture with the ambassador and his family – and smuggle out three watermelons… (you can ask Drew about that story… honestly it was all perfectly legal).

Wednesday, July 5

On Wednesday, following our team Bible study, Annika and I headed over to the Roma community near Zemun to help Pastor Erman pack up donated clothing for the poorest Roma community in Belgrade. Pastor Erman led us over to the church and we began to sort clothing into piles for men, women, and children – it was more difficult than we expected, considering with a lot of the clothing it was rather hard to tell what was what. Another challenge for me was the dust, so I spent a lot of the morning sneezing and going outside for some fresh air. However, in the end we were quite successful – we packed 18 bags of clothing! We also spent some time cleaning up the room in which the clothes had been stored, so that Pastor Erman could get more use out of it in the future. After we finished, Pastor Erman invited us back to his home for lunch prepared by his wife, Sanya. Lunch was amazing – we definitely enjoyed the cabbage rolls stuffed with meat, salad, and a lovely pastry dessert. It was also exciting to hear about the wonderful service at Pastor Erman’s church on last Sunday, where three people were baptized and the church was full of people. The way in which Pastor Erman has been able to reach out to this community and draw people in is truly inspiring – God is working wonders here. Ultimately we made our way back to the flat in time for yet another World Cup game (France vs. Portugal), which a number of students attended. In true World Cup spirit the room was probably split half and half in favor of both teams, though we had great fellowship with one another.

Thursday, July 6

On Thursday we had an opportunity to go to the poorest Roma community in Belgrade with Pastor Erman and his family to help give out the donated clothes that we had packed up. Annika, Drew, and I met up with Pastor Erman and enjoyed a quick snack of watermelon at his home before we headed over to distribute the clothing. Pastor Erman, Sanya, and their son Marco all came along as we went to the Roma community across the highway from the Hotel Intercontinental, an area which we had seen many times out the window of the bus. We managed to fit all 18 bags of clothes into Pastor Erman’s car, though Annika, Sanya, Marco and I all had to take a taxi to get to our destination. When we arrived, I honestly felt like I had to pinch myself to believe that I was really seeing what was all around me. I had never seen people living in slums like this – living in such utter poverty. The pictures I took can do a much better job of getting across the realities of this area much better than my words. This particular community has been in existence since 1999, at which point the city was flooded with Roma refugees and this became a large settlement with several thousand people in this one particular area. The community consists of small homes made of garbage connected by dirt roads paved with more garbage. The community is located to a large extent under a freeway overpass, which means that you could hear the noise from the road at all times. Furthermore, train tracks also border the community, with trains rushing by several times in just the mere two hours or so that we spent there. There is no water, except that from the river. We had the opportunity to meet many people, considering as soon as we arrived Pastor Erman told some of his friends there to tell others that we were here with some clothing donations. We stood outside the house of one Christian woman who Pastor Erman knows especially well – he noted that he sometimes holds meetings for Christians outside of her home. While we were standing there, we began to see many children come over to see what was going on. The first thing that I noticed were their feet – they were covered with blisters, cracked and weathered. I thought of all the times that I have looked at a baby’s perfect little feet, pink and unscathed, and wondered what it must be like to grow up crawling and walking on garbage. One little girl, who was perhaps around three years old, came up to us with a big smile, though we could see that her runny nose was caked to her face. I thought of all the times that I have seen a mother wipe the nose of her child, instructing him or her to just blow their nose into the tissue in her hand, and I wondered if someone had ever done that for this little girl. Then we saw perhaps the most concerning sight of all. There was another house next door to the one we were standing at and we could hear a baby crying. After a few minutes, we saw the baby come crawling out of the front door (or rather, through the flap of material in the door way). The baby looked utterly miserable – she was covered with dirt and her own feces. I felt helpless. Here was this innocent child, crying out for help, and I was thinking about whether or not it was safe for me to even touch her, despite the fact that I desperately wanted to reach out to her. Pastor Erman came to the rescue – he walked over to her, picked her up, and brought her to the Christian woman, asking if she would perhaps be willing to give her a bath. At that point I could see just how filthy this poor baby was and just how hard she was crying. Pastor Erman told us that he was always concerned about the family living in that house and he often tried to bring a little something extra for them when he would come to visit. We asked where the parents of the baby girl were and he led us over to the house and encouraged us to take a good look. The father of the baby girl was passed out drunk on the floor, there was bits of food, garbage, and feces everywhere, the smell was intense. We were told that the girl’s mother had taken one of her other children to the doctor. After we gave out all of the clothes (certainly we did not have nearly enough), we walked around the community for a little while – just taking it all in (the best we could, from our privileged position). At last we left and returned to our flat, though we could not stop talking about what we had seen. However, we had to put those thoughts on hold and get preparations taken care of for a wonderful evening with students. Students came over to play baseball and have BBQ at our flat, which was a great success. To conclude the evening, we went with students down to the river to the free salsa dancing lessons on one of the boat cafés – as usual it was a delightful activity to get everyone involved and we stayed until the music stopped. :)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sierra Leone Update Week 2!

Hello Everyone! We have just finished our 2nd week in the beautiful country of Sierra Leone. We are getting used to how things are done here... we always have to remember "we're on African time!" For example, after i posted our first week's update I wrote one for week 2 but then the internet went down at the cafe we were at. They tried to fix it for about 20 minutes, but couldn't so we left. Of course we had to pay for the whole time we used it. Then we got a taxi to head farther into town to go to another cafe and the taxi we were in broke down! So we walked awhile and then eventually got another. Those are the kinds of things that happen all the time here... but we've gotten used to it. We just go with the flow.
We just wrapped up a week teaching at the school that is at the orphanage we work at, and also teaching at the surrounding schools. This past week we have deemed "health week" and we have all been teaching classes, songs and games to help the kids learn about washing their hands, eating good food, brushing their teeth, and keeping their body healthy. We didn't know until we got here, but we also taught sex ed! That was interesting, but it wonderful to teach when we can speak about God's plan for sex. This is what we taught when we went to other schools around the area. We have been in contact with about 500 kids since we've been here. What a blessing!
We are well taken care of here and we are having a blast learning more and more about the kids we are working with and learning a lot about the country and how God is working here through the staff and other nationals we come in contact with. We are also working with 4 other interns here in Marjay town (close to Freetown about 10 minutes. But the roads are awful so it takes 40) and there are 9 interns up country where we'll visit later.We have also had some time to go to the beach and into town and out to dinner on our days off with the other interns and some of the nationals which has been very fun and nice break. God has made a beautiful country here!
We pray for continued health, and that God would continue to bless us by creating opportunities to minister to the children and adults we come in contact with. Everyday is difficult as we face poverty in a very real and tangible way. My heart continually breaks for these people who are so broken, and for this nation because many of the people here are without hope. But it is encourging to know that God is faithful and he is moving. We are able to see this alongside the suffering and it is a blessing that helps up realize why God has sent us here. We thank you all for your support and prayers. Attached are some pictures of some of the stuff we've done so far! We love you all!

Sierra Leone Update!

Well things are crazy in Sierra Leone and we weren't able to get to an internet cafe until today (10th) So I am posting our updates for our first week and this last week. Love you all! -Erin
7/2/06 (Week One)
It all started in 1462 when Portuguese sailors came along the West African coast, and upon seeing the statuesque cliffs and hearing the roaring thunder like lions, named this beautiful land, Sierra Leone, Lion Mountain. And now a new leaf is being turned, as we take this country by storm!
The traveling was as expected, mind numbing, nerve racking, and wonderful to be over. We each had about 5 hours of sleep over the course of three calendar days, along time swirling around our minds. Finally, we made it! We stepped off the plane on the “Sierra Leone International Air_ort” (the p in the sign was out) and pretty much started sweating instantly. After an amazing helicopter ride and a fabulously bumpy bus ride, our new home was discovered.
Understand that they have us so amazingly well taken care of! Anyone out there praying for our accommodations/food, change to praise! We have several locals working for us, making our lives almost too easy. They are amazingly nice, very patient, and incredible workers. We thought we would be eating rice, fish, and cassava leaves, instead we have had the most flavorful smattering of local favorites. This pure food is really hitting the spot.
Now for what really matters! The children are so amazing! 80 some smiling faces all excited to play with you and learn about Jesus, it is amazing. They run around calling us Uncle and Auntie, and just wanting attention. Thankfully, the Lord is working in us and we seem to have limitless energy for them, as they do for us. They sing and dance amazingly and are all very strong and healthy. They eat very well at their orphanage and it shows. We are so pleased to be a part of these kids’ lives and that they are part of ours. We can feel God working is them and in Sierra Leone, as the love of Jesus is everywhere.
Momoh, our house boy told me, “People ask how we live here, and we tell them, we can live here because we have God.” It’s the things like that that stick with the soul. While the poverty is everywhere, absolutely everywhere, so is God, and we all have faith that these kids in the orphanage with their educations, good health, and love of God will be the future of this land. Till the next time we are able to write continue praying for our ability to show this children Jesus’ love and for the continual health we are currently experiencing.

Brent: Everything is amazing! The people, the scenery, the accommodations, the insane taxi rides, but still, I miss you all at home and truly wish that I could be sharing this experience with all of you. Please offer prayers of praise about our amazing house workers and for our safe travels and all the joyous hearts.
Erin (Auntie Jeneh): Well, I thought I was prepared for all that I would face here, but I don’t think there is any way to prepare yourself for poverty staring at you every single day. You want to be able to help every person you meet, and being unable is heartbreaking! Please pray for these wonderful and incredible people God has in Sierra Leone…pray for change in this nation and these people’s hearts. To my friends and family, I love and miss you all so much. I am well and loving every minute of it even though it is extremely hard. Continue praying me! Love you all.
Kaila Ann: Oh my goodness! I am so overjoyed to be here. My two months solid of hugging and loving kids is off to a great start… Mama, I wish the phone wasn’t so messed up, but I will call as soon as I can (I’ve gotten three notes so far J.) To all of my friends and family, I’m so happy! The kids are the most perfect things I have ever seen, the food is fine J, it’s humid and rainy, but we hit the gorgeous beach a couple of times. I’m totally safe and couldn’t be better taken care of. I love you all more than I know how to tell you and I miss you very, very much!
Natedog: I LOVE THIS PLACE! It’s pretty much impossible to not return the favor to these children when they smile at you—it would work with Saddam Hussein, I’m telling you. I have been having a blast with them, and I am thrilled every time I hear them chime my African name of “Uncle Vandi.” The people I have met are more amazing than I would have hoped people could be. The leadership staff is awesome and the team from Florida that we hooked up with is packed with a fantastic set of humanity. So many of the worries that had been bothering me before I arrived were dismissed by the first day of the trip. I would like prayer for further spiritual growth, for the children and people of Sierra Leone to realize God’s great love for them, and for more rain, since there is a shortage up to this point and people are getting worried. Love and peace!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Some Serbia Highlights...

Wednesday, June 21

On Wednesday, our entire team came to volunteer at the Christian kindergarten. We spent several hours playing with the kids and we came up with another much adored art project – paper cut-outs (such as hearts folded and cut out in such a way that they are all attached to each other). The boys headed off to ADA again to help with baseball and the girls went back to Genex to meet up with Mike, a member of University Presbyterian Church who came to explore ministry opportunities in the Kosovo region. We met him previously at a meeting of the Balkan Task Force before we left home, so it was exciting to see a familiar face in Serbia. In the evening, one girl, Jelena, came over to make jewelry (earrings, bracelets, etc.) with Annika and I. We also had a chance to go over to Samuil and Nada’s house, which always results in conversations that last for hours and a wonderful time for all. Nada made an amazing cake and we enjoyed their hospitality very much, considering their home is so comfortable and cozy.

Thursday, June 22

Thursday presented us with an opportunity to visit the Roma (also known as “gypsy”) community near Zemun in Belgrade. Many Roma are Muslim, though we met up with Pastor Herman, who is leading a small group of Protestants in his community. Samuil, Bojan, Slobodan, and our team came to bring clothing donated to the Roma from students affiliated with EUS. The donations would not be given to Roma in this community, but rather distributed in the poorest Roma community in Belgrade, which is located across from the Hotel Inter-Continental. The Roma slums in that area create a striking contrast with the Hotel Inter-Continental, a famous five-star hotel on the opposite side of the highway. After dropping off the clothes, Pastor Herman showed us around the community, giving us a chance to see the church (situated in a small flat, with one room for the service and one room for children), the kindergarten, and a piece of property where they hope that one day the church will be relocated to, if enough money can be raised. I was amazed by the architecture within the community, considering many of the houses are huge and very elaborate with large families living together. Eventually we came to Pastor Herman’s house to meet his wife and two children (Martha, 9, and Marco, 3). They are such a wonderful family – we hope to have a chance to come back and assist with their ministry more before we return home. Following our time with Pastor Herman, we went to the EUS office for the weekly prayer meeting. We ended our evening with a visit to the Fashion Café, which has free salsa lessons every Thursday night. The Fashion Café is one of many boat cafés on the Danube River and definitely one of our favorites. We went with a number of students, as well as Samuil and Nada, and even a fellow American, James, who is working as a missionary in the city of Nis (the south of Serbia). One of the most entertaining moments of the night was when RJ was nominated by Samuil to take part in the “Man of the Boat” competition, which gave him a chance to show off his salsa skills. Although he did not win, he ended up sharing his testimony with the guy who did win – a surprising twist in a great evening.

Friday, June 23

In the morning, Annika and I boarded a bus to Mitrovica, a very unique city within Kosovo. Our bus ride was long (around six hours), though we made it safely to the city and met up with our hosts, Kuka Maria and Nicky. Kuka Maria is from Finland and Nicky is from England – they are serving as missionaries through OM on the Serbian side of the city. Instantly we discovered that the city was in fact two cities – one Serbian, one Albanian. Serbians make up around 25% of the population and Albanians make up around 75% of the population – and they live on separate sides of the city divided by a bridge (which is heavily guarded by UN, NATO and other soldiers). Prior to the conflicts in Kosovo around 2001, the city had been entirely integrated with Serbians and Albanians living as neighbors. However, when NATO ultimately intervened the city was restructured, so that people are ethnically divided. Foreigners have no trouble going between the Serbian and Albanian sides of the city – Annika and I crossed the bridge many times. Serbians and Albanians remain entirely on their own side – you will see people walk up and down the streets on their side and as they reach the bridge they simply turn around and walk back. This is considered to be the most divided city within Kosovo – at least the most obviously divided. You have to be aware at all times of which side you are on when interacting with people, considering there are many important distinctions – language (Serbian/Albanian), religion (Orthodox churches/mosques – although strangely enough only the Albanian side has a Protestant church), and even money (dinars/Euros). Despite seeing heavily armed soldiers driving down the streets in armored vehicles everywhere (such as KFOR, the NATO Kosovo Force), we felt really safe. This area was hit hard by the March 2004 riots in Kosovo, though there have been no major incidents since that point in time (at least, that we were made aware of). Kuka Maria and Nicky live in a small Serbian village outside of Mitrovica and coordinate a number of ministries for Serbians in the area. Due to our long day of travel we were happy to settle into bed at their wonderful flat – though we were excited to be in a new place and to see how God might use us in this area.

Saturday, June 24

When Annika and I woke up, we still couldn’t believe that we were actually in Kosovo. The day before, when we stopped at the international border between Serbian and Kosovo, the UN soldiers that checked our passports had told us that it was the first time they had ever seen passport pictures with smiles – perhaps not many American girls pass through here. We began the day by heading to a small Serbian enclave within a larger Albanian village. There are many situations like this within Kosovo, which add to the political challenges in this region. When we went to the first enclave we met with an older woman baking bread in her clay oven and spoke with her about life in the village (thanks to Kuka Maria and Nicky’s stellar Serbian abilities). We discovered that the people there are basically prisoners in their own homes, because they are afraid to leave the Serbian part of the village to get anywhere. As a result of this there are UN buses that run three times a week, twice a day (morning and night) to help people get to larger Serbian villages for shopping and even just getting away from home for a bit. Kuka Maria and Nicky run a kids club for Serbian kids in this particular enclave, so we then went to play “Uno!” with lots of kids at the local schoolhouse – which was a blast! We then headed to another Serbian enclave, though on the way we stopped and looked at an Orthodox church that had been heavily damaged in the March 2004 riots – it was a sad sight to see. The church is located in what is now a primarily Albanian section of the village, so it’s a very visible reminder of the divisions in this area. The next enclave we arrived at amazed us even more than the first one, because we drove down a long road with no outlet to reach it. As we drove down the road we could see that we were in an Albanian village, though when we reached the very end of the road (which was horribly full of holes – like a really jerky roller coaster ride) we discovered the small Serbian enclave. However, as noted, there is no outlet – so the Serbians must drive down the road through the Albanian village to get anywhere. Up until recently there had been a French police station between where the Albanian village ended and the Serbian village began, however for some reason the soldiers have been removed and all that is left is a building with barbed wire around it. When we reached the village we tried to meet with the leader of the village, though he was unfortunately unavailable. We went to this area because Kuka Maria and Nicky wanted to look into the possibility of building a playground within the village for the Serbian children, considering it is a rather poor area with little for kids to do other than work in the fields and play around the house. Those who we did talk to were very excited about the possibility of the playground, so we hope that this will become a reality for the children there. The Serbians in this area are also very reliant on UN buses to get anywhere outside of their village, though it seemed that the way in which the road has no outlet except through the Albanian village even magnifies the problem – it is frightening to think of having no escape route should a situation escalate to a dangerous level. We ended the day with going to a birthday party for a little girl who lives near Kuka Maria and Nicky, which gave us a great opportunity to sample more amazing Serbian food (including an incredible banana cake) and speak with more people about their lives here. Everyone was so generous and kind – we could not help but feel at home. One funny story – everywhere we went older women were trying to introduce Kuka Maria, Nicky, Annika and I to their sons… there is a lot of pressure for women to find every girl a “man on a white horse.”

More recent updates to come soon - internet access is a bit unpredictable... Pictures are coming too! Hope all is going well with you and we miss you!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"Now Mary will know what Marlin felt like!" -Krista

(From Finding Nemo)

Yes, Mary got stung by a jellyfish while swimming in the Mediterranean. Her foot hurt really bad, but she recovered after we soaked her foot in vinegar and popcorn. Popcorn of course being the essential ingredient. ;)

Us visiting a waterfall right outside of Antalya.

Snack time at Kids Klub on Saturdays.