Thursday, March 01, 2018

Thoughts from a snowy Banja Luka

I have lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 17 years, and so snow is something I have had to become at least a little familiar with. I was sharing today in an English class at a high school here in Banja Luka (a friend is the teacher and she gets me to come and talk about South Africa and do it in English!), and I told them the story of my first full winter here as at the time I was not familiar with snow AT ALL.

The snow started on Thanksgiving (so end of November) and stuck around until the end of January. It was a bad winter, not all of them are like that! I had a car which you couldn't get winter tyres for and so I was slipping and sliding around until one of my Bosnian friends suggested I put the chains on. And so I did - and drove around with them all winter (which is ok where there is snow on the roads, but where they had cleared it, I was like a tractor!! and to say that people looked at me funny is an understatement, but I was happy I could drive!!)

Now, I have a car which has been duly winterised. Lovely winter tyres. Antrifreeze in the cooling system which can go below -30, and cleaning fluid in the windscreen wipers which also helps to deice the windscreen. These are all things I never thought I would think about! I have been blessed in that I do manage to go to South Africa every other year or so and skip part of the winter (and I have managed to skip many of the really bad ones), so I can't really complain.

I was thinking the other day that just like me car needs to get winterised, and change and adapt to different circumstances, I had to do that as well. I needed to adapt to this culture and people in order to be comfortable. I needed to make sure I had all the necessities in order to live here successfully.
And besides doing that on a cultural and language level, I needed to do it in other ways too... I mean am now proficient in all things needed to be warm in -10 degree weather... long underwear, scarves, hats, and the warmest coat ever (pictured above!). I bought the coat last November as I lost so much weight (yay!) that I was too small for the old one... and it had been such a mild winter until now, that I hadn't really needed it. But now it has come in way handy and I am so glad I bought it!! Even if I do look a bit like Anna Karenina!! As the Norwegians say - there isn't any bad weather, just bad clothing!

This week we are starting up the Book Club and I was so tempted to postpone it, as the weather really is bad, but in the end, I thought it was just good to keep going and so we will see how it goes tonight and if my brave volunteers will come through for me!! But I realised that in the past the weather would have been a reason to cancel as I wouldn't have adapted to it, but now with God's help I have adapted. We all need to adapt and change over time.

Last night at our bible study we were talking through Romans 13. I especially like the last verse, in the Message version: "Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!". I am now thinking that just like I get dressed in all my wintery garb in order to make it out of the house, it is so important to dress myself in Christ in all that I do. To be His hands and feet in this world...and I am so glad that we didn't cancel the Book Club... we need to be up and about! 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Geneva | Western European Leadership Gathering

Even though I am part of the Central European area of YWAM, as part of my role in leadership, I am invited to be a part of the WELG (Western European Leadership Gathering) which is held every other year. This year it was in Geneva. There were about 300 leaders from all over Western Europe (and about 20 of us from Central Europe). (See if you can spot me in the middle next to the lady in turquoise :) 
The key note speaker was Vishal Mangalwadi. It was amazing to hear his teaching again, as I was privileged to have him speak on the Community Development school I did in 1999 in South Africa. He spoke on two days, and the rest of the week we had other YWAM leaders sharing - from Jeff Fountain to Tom Bloomer - and it was a very encouraging time!
And we were definitely in Switzerland - the first night we were treated to some traditional music and raclette! (which for this amount of people was quite a task, but they did a great job!)
To keep costs down in one of the most expensive cities in the world, they told us we would be in bunkers... I thought WW2 bunkers that had been turned into a hostel or something like that... but no, we were in actual atomic shelter bunkers built in the 70s. This is the view of our room - my purple sheets on the left is where I slept in this room with 25 of my (now) closest friends! It was unexpected, but not as horrible as it seems... and now I have a great story to tell!
 Yip - I slept in an actual Bomb Shelter...apparently Switzerland has shelters for every one of their citizens. Each new building has to have a shelter and in every 10th house built in a village, the government pays for them to have a shelter in the basement for them and their neighbours.
We did get to enjoy some of the sights of the city - mostly on the tram on the way to and from the conference :) But it was still nice to get a feel for the city - and isn't this just beautiful! (thanks Jill for the pic!)
One afternoon I was part of a walking tour of the reformation part of the city with Tom Bloomer who is soon stepping down as the Provost for YWAM's University. It was amazing to hear about the reformation that happened in this city from someone who has been studying it for years! Here he is explaining about Calvin's role in the city's transformation.
We went to see where Calvin preached:
 And the chair he used:
 And the church where he did his preaching...
And our tour ended near an amazing place: what was literally the crossroads of Europe - during Roman times, this is where the main North South road met the main East West road, connecting all of Europe in this place!
And that is what this conference is for me - there are no pics of all the connections that took place with old friends and new, connecting me to people in Spain and Switzerland who want to send teams to Bosnia, connecting me with people from Czech and Greece so I can see how they are doing, connecting me with people from Ireland who are coming to run a Faith and Conflict conference in Bosnia in April, and most importantly reminding me how important it is to stay connected to God so that I can do all that I am doing! 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Northern Ireland Team

A team from YWAM Rostrevor came for 12 days, and it was great having them. They were from all over: Canada, Syria, Hawaii, Germany and Northern Ireland and we managed to get a lot packed into their short visit! We hit the ground running with our last Christmas package distribution at the Children's Home: Our child/teenage actors finished off well:
And the team sang a song to complete the program:
Then it was time to hand out the packages (we can't show the faces of the children for child protection reasons, but you can imagine the joy on them for yourselves :) )

All of the team either sing of play a musical instrument (and usually more than one!) so we decided to do a music workshop with our sponsorship kids: 

Here they are making a fruit choir: each of the parts is singing a fruit name: Mango or Banana or Kiwi. And the great thing is that they are the same in Bosnian, English and German (where the song came from!)
 While we were downstairs, Ljilja had a business workshop upstairs with the moms:
We had one full day of practical work around our building, cleaning up and sorting out stuff... such a great help! And then we prepared for the Christmas party for my volunteers. It was postponed from December as I was not well enough to do it then, and it was so great that they could help out and also hang out with the volunteers:
We had prepared a program of more Christmassy songs with the team, but we were also giving the treat of a new local band... They had started practicing together for the first time in our building, so we asked them to come and play a couple of crowd-pleasing songs:
 For having just got together, they did a great job!
 And they got even everyone on their feet and dancing, so I think it was a success!
 After that, we had more hanging out:
 And enjoying the food:
Two of the girls on the team and I spent ALL afternoon baking, but from the expression on these two volunteer's faces I think it was worth it: all unusual cakes for here: brownies, pumpkin pie, cinnamon rolls, and other specialities!
We did end off the program with some more "Holy" music and a good message about Christmas:
During the week we went again to the Children's Home and the team did a great cultural program for the kids there, including Syrian dancing and a Hawaii shout which went down really well. But then it was time for the
 The team sang some songs to get things rolling...

And then the locals joined in...
 Including sharing the Uzicko Kolo (a traditional circle dance)
I even got involved in the fun by the end of the night... It was a great evening and everyone enjoyed themselves!! (and thanks to Ljilja for the funky photos!)

Before they left they had fun hanging out not just with the volunteers, but also with our teenage actors from our Christmas plays, and also ran another children's workshop with our sponsorship kids. As I said, we packed in a lot in their short visit!

It was with sad hearts that we said goodbye to them and sent them on their way to Sarajevo... 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January trip around Central Europe

As my good friend, Janice, is now living in Vienna, I decided it would be a good place to go to spend New Year's, before heading out to see some YWAM people around the Central European region. My first adventure was being kicked off the bus from Zagreb to Vienna as it was overbooked and put on the bus 3 hours later. I did get vouchers for my trouble, but as it was my first journey with Flixbus, I was not impressed to say the least!

But I eventually made it to Vienna, and seeing Janice again made the trip all worthwhile. Janice used to live in Sarajevo, and Ljilja and I last saw her 4 years ago in Israel, so it was time for a nice catch up! After celebrating New Year's I spent a week with her and we also managed to fit in some sightseeing in between the catching up! The highlights were Schönbrunn Palace:the summer palace of the Hapsburgs, so much history!
And a #bucketlist item: the Spanish Riding School and the lipizzaners. We went to the practice session, and I managed to sneak a couple of photos (which aren't hopefully I won't get into trouble putting them on this blog). It was just so amazing to sit there and watch them do their dressage steps, but also realise that this place has been in existence for almost 300 years.
I managed to have my camera focused on the right spot at the right time to get this shot of an "airs above the ground" move. This is not done every day at the practices, and it was the ONLY one of the day, so it was a lucky shot indeed!!
I also managed to meet up with fellow Capetonian and friend, Richard at a traditional Viennese coffee house: He is living in Vienna now, so it was nice to have a good catch up!
Then it was time to do some "work". I travelled  by bus and train to YWAM Hurlach near Munich in Germany. It was my first time at the castle bought for the 1972 Olympics and one of YWAM's heritage sites. It was great to spend time here at the base and see old friends. I spent time in YWAM Hurlach staff meetings, but mostly spent time with our Member Care people for Central Europe, Hannes and Doris, but unfortunately I didn't a get a pic of them, so you will have to do with a pic of the castle instead:
Then Hannes and I drove together to the Czech Republic to meet with our YWAM team in Cheb. We had a great time with them and I think they enjoyed our visit as well: 
I then travelled by train to the lovely city of Budapest, but unfortunately all the other travel caught up with me, and I got sick. So I didn't actually spend time with almost anyone (after setting up many appointments, which had to get cancelled :( ). My last day I went to the doctor and got some antibiotics for my throat and asked her if I should cancel the next leg of my trip to Bucharest (by plane) and she said that with the antibiotics I would get better and there was no reason not to go... so onwards I went: 

It was a whistle-stop visit to Romania for some meetings and of course I didn't get any photos of that either, but on the way back I got to enjoy the stunning sunrise in Bucharest airport: 
After 3 weeks of travelling, by car, bus, train and plane it was really great to get back home to Banja Luka!! 

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox packages

After spending two months preparing hard with my teenage and child actors, we put them to work in December to do our plays and then give our shoebox packages. Here we are after the first distribution: The actors are in front without packages :)
This year instead of one long play, we had 3 little plays with 9 actors in total. We had one presenter who announced each of the plays and one was offstage in this play - playing the angel that appears to the these two shepherds:
 Then we had two mice talking about the true meaning of Christmas:
Both of these were actually poems that I found online and adapted. The last was a play I wrote and when I wrote it, I actually had my teenage actors in mind! It was a conversation between them (and at the end it turns out they were waiting for a bus as they run off the stage!)  about Christmas and Jesus' birthday. I included interesting facts like Christmas is in summer in South Africa and Australia :) It worked really well and I am proud of my actors:

I did manage to take a video of the plays, and I need to mention that the shepherds and the mice were interchangeable (we were supposed to have two groups, but in the end it didn't work out, but they had learnt both parts so we mixed and matched) and the video is actually the other way round from the pictures: (and if you click on CC you will get English subtitles!)

After the plays, Ljilja did a great job of getting the children to understand what they were all about :)
Afterwards it was time to give out the packages: We had various sizes of groups as we did performances for different organisations, but it was fun every time!
And a lot of variety of children: this group was for autistic and children/adults with special needs.
We also did some presentations in schools: First grade, sooooo sweet:
And for many of the groups, we also organised beautiful Children's Bibles: 
I love how proud he is of his Bible:
After the plays there was also a chance to interact with the actors. And yes, the mice were the most popular!!

A fun thing that happened is that I was chatting with my sister (who lives in England) and she told me that she had actually organised for her company to put together shoebox packages. Although we don't know if those packages are the ones we are given out here, it is a possibility as our packages come from England! I offered to do some thank-you pictures for her to show to those that collected, and here they are below: 
I think it was fun that we could do that and I know her company appreciated it!
She also wanted some package opening pictures, and so I made this video in one of the schools:

Also, the actors were able to go and help out our friends in Prijedor do a show there where they had about 200 children in the audience. And it went well! Also, we will still do one more show in January for the children at the Children's Home... And even though it has been hard work, seeing the smiles on the children's faces makes it all worthwhile!

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