Saturday, March 21, 2020


Covid-19 has hit so many places hard... and even we in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been badly affected. Mainly by people coming back from Italy, Germany, Austria. So many people are now in quarantine that it is hard to keep track, but they are keeping on trying... 

When cases started to happen in Banja Luka, we had already decided to have a craft evening with some of our lovely volunteers, so we wore the masks for the photo as a joke kind of... now it isn't so funny anymore as more and more cases are found. 
The team from Ireland came a couple of days after the Faith and Conflict to spend time in Banja Luka...until the coronavirus meant that they had to leave early to try and get home - sad faces: (well except Alex who was still catching up - the photos were taken early in the morning to give him grace)
We were sad to see them go, but in the end it was definitely the right decision as they would have been stuck with me in Banja Luka indefinitely as borders closed and flights were all cancelled. Now, the teams that are supposed to be coming in the next couple of months are also probably going to be cancelled. I have been so busy since January, and it wasn't really going to slow down until July and I was thinking "how am I going to survive"... so things have changed so much in the space of a week!!

I have been wanting to go to see Ljilja's new apartment in her home town (it is actually directly above her parents place), but I hadn't had the chance. Now with her being unexpectedly free (the conference she was supposed to be at was cancelled) and the team gone for me, we decided it was time to take a break in Trebinje. We are social distancing - including with the Grand Duke of Herzegovina: 
In the meantime, I managed to help organise a prayer day for the 250 or so YWAMers in Central Europe on Friday. We had 24 hours of slots filled by people all over our area...
And those of us in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia prayed together on zoom for one of the slots... Each in their own homes :) It was great!
In this new time of uncertainty and unknown, one thing is sure, that God was not surprised and He knows what He is doing. We just need to take each day at a time, take measures to protect ourselves and others, and help those that we can. We decided to go now and have a break in Trebinje, because we fear that it will get much worse in Banja Luka before it gets better (so far 45 of the 90 cases in Bosnia Herzegovina are in Banja Luka), and so we want to get back when we will be most needed to help those that are more vulnerable. Stay safe out there and enjoy this unexpected "downtime" if you are able. If you are a health worker know that you are being prayed for! 

Faith and Conflict 2020

This is the fourth Faith and Conflict which we have run in cooperation with YWAM Ireland... There were 23 people who came from YWAM in Switzerland, Albania, Greece, Serbia and Ireland. We also had some other lovely people join us from Sarajevo. We started in Sarajevo for 3 days and then moved to Mostar for the last 2 days. We listened to local stories, and learned from Jonny Clark and Alex Atwell from YWAM Ireland. Below is Alex sharing with us on the opening night:
 We also had a wonderful tour of Sarajevo with Sasa who is an amazing guide:
Even during last year's Faith and Conflict, the guys from YWAM Davos in Switzerland were talking about coming back this year, but during their "lecture phase" for their Discipleship Training School. We ended up running the F&C in February so they could come and do a snowboarding camp with the youth in Sarajevo (the DTS school focuses on snowboarding and free skiing). They also decided to come the week before to Banja Luka where I spent the week sharing my story and lessons I have learnt along the way - it was great fun!
Besides the YWAM Davos guys coming to Banja Luka beforehand, a team from YWAM Ireland came to Banja Luka afterwards. We had a great time with them...

Until they had to leave early because of Covid-19... More on that in this blog post

Monday, February 17, 2020

2020 started with lots of travelling...

I started mid-January in Budapest, where I was part of the week-long intensive FOCOS Foundational Coaching Skills Training. It is part of a year-long program that I am taking part in this year. There were 21 of us from all over the world learning how to be life coaches. It was a lovely group of people, and we had a great week learning together!

It was a very intensive workshop - but we did have one afternoon of seeing the beautiful city of Budapest:
Some of us went up to palace and the Castle district where I got some lovely photos:

 We also had time in the evenings to wonder around... and take in some sights:
 Or make album cover photos... (did I say this was a fun group?!)
After that, I had a week before I needed to be in Prague for a conference, so I decided to stay in Budapest for a couple of days and meet up with people there... it happened to be Edyta's birthday so I got to hang with her and Marie which was especially fun...and also got to see other fun friends there too!

Then it was time to go a bit early to Prague to spend time with David and Irena and their four girls. It was a great time to catch up with them (they used to live and work in Banja Luka), especially as it was a couple of days before David was diagnosed with Leukemia! He is busy getting treatment in hospital in Prague and the prognosis is good, but it was still a bit of a shock...for them and for me. (if you pray, please remember them in your prayers!)
Then it was time for the European Leadership Gathering - about 350 leaders from all over Europe met in Prague. Our first night we even had Loren Cunningham (below right) who is YWAM's founder. It was a privilege to hear him speak to all of us:
We also heard from all sorts of YWAM greats: here are Jeff and Romkje Fountian being interviewed on the sofa by Tove:
We also got creative: Here is Carl Tinnion (the outgoing European leader) doing a monologue as Jan Hus: a Czech theologian who was an early reformer whose thinking influenced Luther!
He was burned at the stake for his "heretical thinking": and Carl's monologue made us truly think about his premise that "Truth Prevails":
I was involved in a LOT of the behind the scenes organising but did get to be a part of the program on the last night along with Dick Brouwer, our new European Leader:
Probably my favourite moment of the whole week was when Al Akimoff (one of our long time YWAM leaders) prayed for our outgoing YWAM leader, Carl Tinnion... you can see me wiping the tears off during it, I was laughing so hard... 
During the week, I decided that we needed to get our lovely Central European area together one afternoon. It was a great time of sharing and we so enjoyed being "just us":
But my favourite part of the whole week was definitely hanging out with my buddy, Rebecca: She and I were the communication team for Central Europe for 5 years before she moved from Czech to Thailand. I recruited her to come and help at the conference and we had a great time. We also got to spend one afternoon after the conference seeing the sights of Prague:

Then it was time to head to the UK: I promised Rebecca that if she came to Prague to help we would finally make good on our promise to go visit our ex-leader (whom we worked for for those 5 years). So we went to spend a couple of days with Carmelita - we were near to Shakespeare's place of birth (Stratford-upon-Avon) so we went for the day - here we are in front of his birthplace: (not sure why I have the scrunchy face haha)
 And then we met a local who told us where to go to see his place of burial:
It was also good to meet Carmelita's husband, Derek... God told her to leave YWAM, then she met him, and got married after 50 - so there's hope for everyone! Here we are in front of the church across the street from their house: 
It was a fun couple of days of catching up and hanging out: 
Then it was time to go and visit my sister in Oxford - I did get to spend time with my niece and brother and law as well - but the only pic I got was with A in front of the Radcliffe Camera:
Then after 4 weeks, 7 different beds, a load of buses, a train, two planes, one workshop, one conference, and visiting good friends and family, it was time to head home to Banja Luka again... I love travelling, but I love my own bed just as much!! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Operation Christmas Child 2019

This past weekend, we managed to give out over 600 packages in five different presentations. It really was "OPERATION Christmas Child"!!! I already explained about the play we used this year in a previous blog post.

Each time, we would start with Sinisa saying a few words and then introducing our play:
Afterwards we would come out and sing a few songs - with Bojan (whom Fady on the Lausanne team taught to play guitar) playing along with me! We had a great time singing the local version of Jingle Bells, a song about Christmas and then "You are Precious" which was written by my Finnish colleague. It fit in with the theme of the play where all the animals had their special gift for Jesus, so we decided to sing it as well...
Before the main attraction, Ljilja would ask them what they learned from the play and the songs... and the children were right on the ball with their answers! They were all paying attention! And then of course the main attraction - the Christmas packages:
Our actors and other volunteers helped us with the handing out of packages:
 Here is Ljilja with some of the kids and the actors:
And another one of the three "younger" actors as they are so cute - they are actually all cousins, and Lena (left) and Marija (right) have been in our plays already for 5 years - but their other cousin, Lana (middle) wanted to join in - and she was also very good!
Here we all are with our shoebox packages!!!
And then repeat 4 more times over 2 days and that is how it is done!!! Hope you have a great Christmas everyone!!! 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Plays 2019

Since 2014, I have been "in charge" of the Christmas plays for the distribution of Operation Christmas Child shoebox packages in our church. Most of the same children are still involved as our actors, but now they are teenagers and mostly taller than me!
This year, I was talking with one of the actors in August at camp and saying that I needed to start thinking about what the play would be this year already... she thought I was joking, but yes I either find a script and adapt it or write the plays myself and that takes time for the creativity needed!

Unfortunately in the run up to Nick Vujicic and then having the Lausanne team here, I really didn't have the time or inspiration to write something... I was playing with the idea of writing a script about the animals at the first Christmas reminiscing about it or something like that, but nothing came of that. We would also be starting with rehearsals a LOT later than I would have liked, so I was worried that the actors wouldn't be able to learn their lines...

And then in November, I got really sick and had to cancel my planned trip to Romania. While I was resting, I decided to at least look for scripts and see if I could find something of if inspiration would hit...

And I found this cute little story about a barnful of animals who learn from "Mama Cow" about the story of Christmas and how all the different animals contributed to Jesus's first night in their own special way. And I fell in love with it - such a cute way to use animals to show how special we all are. I needed to adapt it a bit and add two more characters as we had more kids than were in the script, and this was the result: (There are English subtitles - just click on the CC.)

The kids did great, and I am so glad that we have two lovely interns, Hannah and Haley who were able to help with the costumes - if I didn't have them, I would have given up on an animal play! And thanks to Haley for taking the video.

It really was a great play to use with limited time - I added the part about the Cow reading the story so she didn't have to memorise all those lines and the rest of them had very little to learn! One of the parts I did add was the Bull, knowing who would act it. so a bit of a typecast :)

Sinisa also did a wonderful job on the stage, making it look different from all the other years... We had a fun time doing the plays and then handing out the Christmas packages... but more on that in another post...

I can't believe that this is the 6th play I have done - 3 adaptations, and 3 written by me. I love the fact also that we have this great group of kids/teenagers who have grown up with us doing these plays. Each year I think "maybe next year we can do something simpler, like just watching a video", but each year some of them ask me "when are we starting to practice?" or "what play are we doing this year?" and I relent and do it all again... but I am serious this time! Video next year ;) 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Volunteer Christmas Party 2019

Last night, we had a wonderful evening celebrating this time of the year and thanking our volunteers for their service - here we all are with our lovely antlers!!
Haley, Hannah and I spent almost two days making things for the party. Here are apple pies (done in my gran's old mince pie pans, so cute):
 Chocolate pretzels with m&ms: festive!
 Chocolate brownies:
 We also had my famous pumpkin pie - much to Nina's delight... she loves the pumpkin pie!
Before all the sweets, we actually had some savoury - baked potatoes with all sorts of toppings - they were quite a success! Here is Haley with hers:
 We had a good time hanging out - Vlad with the twins, Katarina and Marina: I remember who is who by the glasses: Kat-arina has a set that look like a cat. Although I still managed to get it wrong once as I thought it was Ma-rina who had glasses like a "machka" (the local word for cat). Luckily they are very forgiving!
 Bojana hanging out with Hannah (and me in the background!)
 Vlad and Hannah:
 And then he got to have a go with the glasses!
After hanging out for a bit, we had a fun game of "pass the parcel" adult style... where you throw a dice (which is what Bojana is doing) and when you get a 6 you have to put on the scarf and the gloves and try and get a layer off - until the next person gets a 6 and you have to give everything over to them... it was pretty fun! Each layer has a little prize so it is worth it! 
 Then we had a chance to ice cookies:
 And everyone got quite into it...
 There were some cute results:
At the end of the evening, everyone got a gift - a lovely Children's Bible (as we all work with children!) and then a heart with our names on them and JN 3:16 to remind us of God's heart for us: 
It was a wonderful evening and everyone who came not only had a great time, and ate lots of good food, but also left knowing that we are so grateful for their work for us, and that they are special and loved! 
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