Monday, August 10, 2009

Team Serbia: Suffering for Jesus all over the Balkans

While many teams have been sleeping on the dirt, showering once a week and truly suffering, Team Serbia just got back from a beach vacation where we suffered for Jesus on the shores of the Adriatic Sea and spent the equivalent of a day and a half on buses.

The adventure began July 24, when we left at 11:30 p.m. to take a 9-hour night bus to Podgorica, Montenegro. We were warned that the bus trip would be awful, with winding roads through Southern Serbia, no air conditioning, multiple bathroom stops in the middle of the night, and passport checks of every single passenger at each border. We ignored the warnings and took the bus anyway. Needless to say, we are surprised we lived to tell the tale. We vowed never to take the night bus again…or so we thought. We arrived in Podgorica and took yet another bus to Niksic, Montenegro where we would be staying with Stan and Vicki, a missionary couple from Southern California. Total bus time (TBT) so far: 11 hours and counting.

We spent 3 days in Niksic, a small town in the mountains about the size of Issaquah. Stan and Vicki live in a beautiful house with many guest rooms, a small vineyard, a massive vegetable garden and Stan’s workshop where he builds violins. They used to live in Southern California, but moved to Montenegro 13 years ago when there were fewer than 20 believers in the entire country (Montenegro has a population of about 620,000 today). Today there are about 120 total believers, and 3 thriving churches in the entire country. Stan and Vicki are incredibly hopeful that their ministry will continue to bring people to Christ, but know that the road ahead is long and daunting. Vicki cooked incredible meals for us each day, some of which included salsa (we all miss Mexican food!) and peanut butter. We also got to visit with some of the young adults at the church in Niksic, and were encouraged by their optimism and strength despite the tough climate for ministry in the country.

All four of us were sad to leave Niksic and Stan and Vicki, but our next stop was the coastal town of Herceg Novi, Montenegro. We took a two-hour bus ride (TBT: 13 hours) to Herceg Novi, and were met by Eric and Susan, a missionary couple from Chicago. They have lived in Herceg Novi for 5 years, and not one person has come to the Lord since then. We learned that a lot of the difficulties involved with ministry in Montenegro are a result of peoples’ distrust and hardened hearts. Montenegro means “black mountains” and rocks litter the hillsides. Eric said that ministry in Montenegro is like moving rocks: first removing the rocks from their hearts, and then trying to plant seeds. We learned from Eric and Susan that our success on this trip is not determined by how many people meet Jesus. Instead, we might be just a link in the chain, or more water for seeds that have already been planted. We were really encouraged by our discussions with them.

While we were in Herceg Novi, we had the chance to visit the ancient city of Kotor, Montenegro (TBT: 15 hours) and Dubrovnik, Croatia (TBT: 18 hours). It’s safe to say that all four of us have fallen in love with the Adriatic Coast. Visiting Dubrovnik was definitely a highlight of the trip for our team. We spent the whole day there, walking around the fortress walls that enclose the old city, enjoying wonderful Croatian sea bass, eating ice cream multiple times, and taking a dip in the Adriatic to cool off. Dubrovnik was by far the most tourist-populated city on our journey, and we met a lot of Americans there. Despite almost missing our bus back Herceg Novi and begging a taxi driver to accept our last few cents and take us to the bus station, the day was wonderful and a great time for our team to relax and enjoy one another’s company.

The rest of the time in Montenegro was spent on the beach. Carolyn and Cassie (or Cassandra as she’s known here) are golden brown, Casey has about a million freckles, and Emily is probably giving Team Ireland a run for their money in the pale department. Our last night in Herceg Novi was spent talking to the woman whose house we were staying in. She and her family are refugees from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina who arrived in HN 17 years ago with only the clothes on their backs. They left Sarajevo 6 days before the war began in Bosnia in 1992. Their family of 5 lived in the same trailer for 10 years, surviving only on meat pie. They’ve since built a house and their children are going to university in Belgrade, but you can tell that they still struggle with a lot of pain and hurt from the war. We were all really grateful to hear a story that is not often told, as many people aren’t quick to share how the war affected them personally.

We left the next day for what we thought was a 7-hour bus ride to Sarajevo, but instead turned out to be 9 hours of hairpin turns, Turbo Folk (search for it on YouTube, then imagine listening to it for 9 hours), and body odor. Believe us, the 2 extra hours seemed like eternity (TBT: 27 hours). We arrived in Sarajevo and were brought directly to the best cevapi restaurant we’ve been to thus far. Over the next couple days we experienced the culture primarily through food and drink, which included Turkish coffee and a truly authentic Bosnian meal. Money was tight because of a miscalculation at the exchange office, but we still managed a carriage ride down a peaceful road lined with trees that led to a park filled with fountains, walking bridges, and spring water so fresh we could kneel down and drink from our hands. Oh how we suffered for Jesus! In the early evening on our last night we attended a church service and immediately following it we hopped on a bus to trek back to Belgrade. It was a night bus. Remember how we said earlier that we’d never take a night bus again? Oops. A poor life decision we will never make again.

Thirty-six hours of bus rides, 10 days, 4 different currencies and 3 passport stamps later, we were all very relieved to be back home in Belgrade. As we finish out our trip, we are all experiencing the bittersweet feelings involved with wanting to be home, but also not wanting our time here to come to an end. Please pray that our team will finish strong for our last week and a half and that we would continue to build relationships even though we are leaving. We’re all hoping that God will continue to help our friendships blossom even after we’ve left, and we trust that God will work through the distance.

Samuil’s first impression of Team Serbia based on the picture of us on our prayer card:

Emily – Looks more like a “Stacy”. We’re not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because it sounds a lot like Casey? Which sounds a lot like Cassie? Which is pretty similar to Carolyn? (i.e., “Stacy, you are talking little bit much”). Looks sassy because of arm placement in picture.
Casey – The little angel who is always happy and bubbly and doesn’t know anything.
Carolyn – Or, “Fancy Carrie”. She’s naïve: “Oh I am going to Serbia, la la la la la”
Cassandra – The quiet businesswoman who you wouldn’t expect to speak her mind, but when she does, she really means business.

Quotes, funny moments and other cultural misunderstandings…

Cassie: “I would never wish a night bus on anyone!”

Casey: “We could go to the 24 hour market!”
Cassie: “I don’t think it will be open…”

Samuilo, Director of EUS: “GIRLS! Don’t baptize my floor with your cup of water!”

Total number of wrong buses Casey and Cassie have taken: “I don’t think we can keep track of that anymore” – Cassie

In Sarajevo, Casey accidentally took the largest cup of wine for communion. She gave it to Emily, who then felt buzzed on the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy? Maybe. Funny? Very.

Jelena, Carolyn and Emily’s host and EUS staff member: “Emily, what is wrong with your hair today??” (We think she meant: What did you do differently with your hair?)

Joke from Samuilo: “Jewish custom is to put a baby between a bible and a stack of money and if it crawls to the bible it will be a preacher and if it goes towards the money it will be a banker…and if it grabs both…TV evangelist”

In Cassie and Carolyn’s English class, while playing “Would You Rather…?” a 21 year old male student asked “Would you rather me take off my shirt right now, or go to drinks with me later?”
Šmeksi (shmexsi) = a slang term used by younger Serbians to describe a macho, cocky guy

Lots of ljubav,

Stacy, Fancy Carrie, Cassandra (The Soap Star), and Casey (who really needs a nickname…)

No comments: