Monday, July 02, 2018

June Visitors...

As I said in my last post, I got back from my epic trip around Europe and picked up Mom at Zagreb airport on the way back. As usual it was great to have her here... the weather mostly played along: Here we are downtown:
And at the city park:
We also made it to the market where both got new dresses: which you can't really see in the below pic, but they are lovely :)
Another hit was the indoor thermal swimming pool on the day it rained... and Mom (who was coming from drought-stricken, water-restricted Cape Town) could take a lovely long shower in the thermal water. I think that she enjoyed that almost as much as seeing me!

Mom's trip was short but very sweet and it worked out magnificently as when she left, we could drive her to Zagreb, as I was already having to drive our kombi/van to pick up a lovely team from the US: Here we are having dinner the first night altogether, once we were back in Banja Luka:
Even though they were around only 4 days, before heading to Sarajevo for a month, we managed to pack in a lot of things with them: Cultural night at EKC Ihtus:
 Where we had a lot of fun!
We also took them to the children's home where they hung out with the kids... Most of them are in Italy, staying with families during the summer, but we gave those that were there a fun afternoon, playing games or doing loom bangs on the side, or football with the guys:
Or doing gymnastics together:
When they left to go to Sarajevo, we were sad to see them go :(

Then we had some wonderful Finnish visitors, Sanna and Miika and their three kids who used to be here, but you will have to take my word for it as I don't have a pic...

Then it was time for my last June visitors, this time Matt and Kalene from my home church in Cape Town, South Africa. They were the lucky winners of a voucher at my Bosnian evening for free accommodation and they always wanted to come to this part of Europe, so they decided to come to me on the way from Budapest to Croatia... and we showed them a good time: Here we are at Krupa falls:
It was a busy but fun couple of weeks with all of our June visitors!!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Toledo, Sarajevo, Budapest and Tallinn

As I am part of the Bosnian National Team for Samaritan's Purse's "Operation Christmas Child", this year I went to the IConnect conference held in Toledo, Spain with 3 of my fellow team members. Here we are below with our colleagues from Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia. Yes, we went all the way to Spain and hung out with our local colleagues :)
This year was also Elvira's first time and she asked me to also dress up in National Costume so she wouldn't be alone. this was meant to be for the first night along with everyone else, but our flight was delayed and then our luggage lost, so we didn't get to do it then... but we were determined to do it anyway and it was really fun: 
Here are all of us from Bosnia and Herzegovina together with the OCC mascot! 
The conference was huge - over 500 people from 60 nations. We had corporate sessions in the morning and evenings and then workshops in small groups the rest of the day. It was long days, but we had a great time! 
One evening we were able to go to Toledo - and we took the little train up to the hill overlooking the city and got some great views of this Unesco World Heritage City, before exploring the city further and then having a little adventure getting lost trying to make our way back to where we could catch the taxi home! But we made it back safe and sound in the end...
After the conference, we all flew back to Sarajevo, and as it was my birthday the next day, everyone arranged to stay on and celebrate with me... Yay!! We were joined by Carolyn (and Elvira opted out) for the trip up the mountain on the newly redone Cable Car:

Here I am in one of the old cars - the original Cable Car was made for the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics and then unfortunately it was destroyed in the 1990s war, so it is nice to have it up and running again. 
Then, instead of travelling from Sarajevo to Banja Luka (5 hours by train) and then onto Budapest (12 hours on bus and train), I just flew on a Wizzair cheap flight to Budapest... and stayed with my friend Marie (and got to hang out with some other people as well which was great - but I don't have pics of that).
The reason for going to Budapest, was actually to take advantage of cheap flights to my next destination, Tallinn, Estonia, another Unesco World Heritage City!! (I should call this post from Toledo to Tallinn, seeing World Heritage cities across Europe!)
But you can see why it is a world heritage site... above is the Russian Orthodox church and below is one of the city gates that is still there - they have more that 80% of them, which is amazing for a medieval city!
 A view from the walls out... so pretty:
 This was part of the walk from where we were staying in the middle of old town to the place we were meeting... 2 years ago when I was here, I could barely make it up the hill... now 15kgs lighter and little bit fitter, I was able to make it up, sometimes twice a day, with no problem... so I was happy about that :)
The reason I was in Tallinn, was to spend time with these great people: The European Leadership Learning Community. I was part of the staff team for this event which was so fun. I love this group!
We had two very different, but amazing teachers. One was Ben Fitzgerald from Awakening Europe: He was more inspirational...
The other Oivind Augland from xpand Norway: He was inspirational, but also so very practical. Loved it!
We did have time for a little RnR... playing games in the park. There were some interesting ones like the one below... It was so much fun! And if you want interesting games, get a Dutchie to organise it!
During the week, I also got to hang out with my Estonian/Bosnian friend, Jael. She lived in Bosnia for 17 years and left last year in October to return to Tallinn. She took me to the medieval restaurant "Old Hanza" which was amazing...
The sausages were bear, moose and wild boar!! All the food are things that they would have eaten in medieval times... such a fun experience!
After 3 weeks, 1 5 hour hour train trip, 9 flights ranging from 1 to 4 hours, 1 5 hour bus trip, and many other forms of transport including the Cable Car, I met up in Zagreb with Ljilja and Sina and we hung out for a bit before Sina left... and then Ljilja and I picked up my MOM for her to come to stay with us in Banja Luka... but more on that in another post :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Michaela and Janice

If you would ask me what the hardest thing about being here is, I would say that it is the saying goodbye. In fact, 5 years ago, I wrote a blogpost on saying goodbye which I still return to as a reminder every so often...

But, just this past week, I got to say hello to two people who were in my life over 10 years ago, and it was so great to see them both again!

Janice is a dear friend, and I have seen her quite a few times since she left Bosnia over 10 years ago, including in Israel and Vienna, but Michaela I haven't seen since she and her family left Bosnia 11 years ago.

When I first came to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was in a city called Zenica. Her parents, Jeff and Cindy, were there and their family became my second family. I know that I survived that transition period into live here mainly because of their support. Michaela was 4 when I arrived and I still think of her as that sweet little girl, but she is now all grown up and about to embark on her Masters!

She is travelling around Europe on an internship and started with me here and it was so great to have her. We miss her already. Janice came from Vienna to celebrate her birthday and completely by accident they were here at the same time (and they knew each other from before as well!)
You can read here more of what Michaela is up to this summer and what her impression of Banja Luka was! We had a crazy beginning with her sharing the church building with 11 other people and then as they left, a more relaxed time helping us sort out stuff for children's workshops as well as helping Janice sort out some of her stuff (which she is finally getting around to getting rid of after leaving it in Sarajevo for 10 years!)

It was great having both of them here again, and seeing how mature Michaela is now. It was again hard to have to say goodbye to them again - but I know even if I don't see them again here on this earth (which I hope I will!) we will see each other again one day in heaven, and that gives me hope! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Central European Leadership Gathering | Romania

Every other year, we hold a leadership gathering for the Central European region of YWAM. We usually have between 70 or 80 people attend and it is a great way for people to connect, as well as get inspired to continue their work in this region. This year it was time to hold it once again in Romania, where the majority of the people are in this area. We found a place about an hour outside of Cluj, surrounded by lovely mountains and where we could get away from it all!

Over 80 people attended in the end, and it was a great time of networking, as well as getting wonderful input from Stephe and Rite Mayers, who have been leaders in YWAM Europe for many years.

I was helping to facilitate the program as well as keeping an eye on the logistics (which were being handled by our phenomenal event manager, Tabita), as well as meeting with people every chance I got, so it meant for long, busy days, but I love it! I came back completely physically exhausted, but in all other ways completely full!

We did have a chance to go one afternoon to a waterfall not too far away. It was good to get out in nature (it was about a 20 minute walk to it) and also hang out with people more informally!

And of course, I didn't take my phone, so I only got pics with people who then sent them to me... (on the left, Ana from Canada/Croatia and on the right Greg and Erin from US/Poland). It really is great at these conferences to be able to catch up with old friends and make new ones!

I also didn't get any pictures of me up in the front doing my thang - but that is because I was too busy doing too many other things to think of documenting it. Oh well. I worked with our core team - me and 3 guys - to put everything together and make sure it all ran smoothly. It was so great working with such a phenomenal group and according to the feedback we did an OK job.

On the first night, one of the core team, Florin from Romania, was introducing the four of us, and he asked us each to tell him one fun fact that he could share, that no one would know about us. I told him that my fact was that I had a snake as a pet as a child. I thought he would just share "Belinda had a snake as a pet as a child" and that would be that... but he managed to take it and use it well: He said "and she learnt to handle the snake and that has helped her handle the 3 of us 'snakes' on the core team very well". :)

I love these conferences and I love being able to use my organisational skills to help make them run smoothly, and it is really amazing how everything always seems to work out well. I have been helping with these conferences since I turned up early for one to sight see in Budapest and then got roped into helping as the person who was meant to be helping got sick... I have learnt such a lot about event management and organising things well through this, and so enjoy it, but I am kind of glad that the next one is only next year!! But it will be the big one for all of our staff - so over 200 people! Can't wait! 

Friday, May 11, 2018

YWAM Hurlach team

At the end of April, we had a great team come from YWAM in Germany for 10 days. They were supposed to be doing workshops with the kids at the children's home, but because of a measles outbreak the whole home was (and still is) in quarantine, so we couldn't do that.

We did have one workshop with the kids from our sponsorship project, and they really enjoyed that:
We sang songs, played games and did some facepainting:

And got to hang out with the two cute boys on the team: 

We had already thought to use the team for some projects around the building - and one of them was cleaning out the basement and then as they had time, they even offered to paint it... I know it doesn't look like much, but this is SO MUCH BETTER than it was! Here are Sinisa and I with Jose who did a lot of the cementing... we didn't get a pic with the rest of the team (all of whom helped!!)
Although there were changes to their schedule as thing changed, the team was flexible and willing to do what they could where they could. It was great having them and we were sad to see them go! 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book review | Becoming the Talbot sisters

I first must confess that I decided to get this book to review through Netgalley as Rachel is a good friend, and I even helped with some of the words in Serbian in the book. I also remember her telling me enthusiastically about some of the different parts she was writing, which made reading the book even more fun. I loved her first book Ascension of Larks and so was looking forward to reading this one and so grabbed the chance to review it before it even came out!!

And I COULDN'T PUT THE BOOK DOWN! The characters are so well written and the plot so gripping, that I just kept on reading and reading... and it was a problem as I was supposed to be doing other things!!!

Some of the book is set in my part of the world (Central Europe) and deals with the terror that is human trafficking, but the deeper story of the two sisters and the in-depth look into their lives as individuals and how they interact as sisters made me reminisce about my relationship with my sister and brother and made me realise I could be doing better...

And that is the point of the book. It isn't just a good novel or a gripping read, but makes one think more about the wider world as well as one's own relationship circles. Knowing Rachel, I know this was done delibrately. This is the kind of book you read for distraction, but also to make you think. She really got the balance right. And of course her writing is amazing and throughout the book I am imagining myself in those places and with the characters involved.

The book is coming out in May, so don't delay, get your copy while you can!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Faith and Conflict 2018

We ran a Faith and Conflict in 2014, and Jonny Clark from YWAM Rostrevor has been on me ever since to run another one. I never felt it was the right time until this year. This year, the Discipleship Training School (DTS) that is being run in Croatia is focusing on Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia as well, and so we decided that this week long conference would be part of the DTS and we would also see if anyone else wanted to come along for this journey of understanding... and they did!

Even though Jonny couldn't come at the last minute, and he was supposed to be the main speaker, everything still turned out OK. We had great local input from different people telling their stories, from how they were in the army from the beginning to the end of the war without having a gun to dodging bullets in Sarajevo, to becoming a refugee. We also had two great speakers from Northern Ireland fill in for Jonny: Walter and Alex, and they shared more about the topic of reconciliation and the key role of forgiveness.

We physically (as well as mentally and spiritually!) went on a journey through Bosnia and Herzegovina, starting in Banja Luka: Here we are in front of the Orthodox church.
 Then moving to Sarajevo - where we enjoyed some better weather :)
We finished off in Mostar, and were so impacted by how divided the city still is. One of the people telling their stories said "here the war hasn't ended yet". It just brought home how much still has to change here.
For me, it was so impactful how we kept taking the BIG picture and then making it personal. So, conflict happens between people groups when there is an "us" and a "them" and the same thing is true in our lives. How much do I make a difference in my own life between a group I am part of and a group I am not part of. A silly example was when one of the girls started bragging how much better it was to be on the top bunk (we were sleeping in bunks in one of the churches in Sarajevo) and those people on the bottom bunks were all losing out... There was the us and them!

In our lives, we need to be living not with us and them, but just us... we are all in this together and need each other to get along. It is easier to build walls than bridges - but we need to build bridges to survive!!

It was a fantastic week, and even though there was a lot of work to organise all the logistics in 3 cities, it was worth it to show everyone the riches of beauty in this country - not just in the physical geography, but also in its people!

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Teams and "Easter" Packages

At the end of March, we had two wonderful teams come and serve us in Banja Luka. First, a team of 17 youth from different churches from Austria came to spend 4 days with us before moving on to Tuzla:
While they were still with us, a team of 16 young people also from different churches came from Norway to spend a week with us. 
Both teams helped us give out "Easter" packages (which were actually shoe-box Christmas packages) both at the church and at schools in our surrounding villages. It was a jam-packed week, but the joy of the Easter message was shared to many children! 

We did two big distributions in the church. One with just the Austrians: (here sharing about Austria)
 Before having crafts about Easter and fun games:
At the end we gave out the packages, to everyone's delight :)
 We also gave out Children's Bibles which were a great hit:
The second day we did the same thing, but were joined at the end by the Norwegians (they were supposed to arrive earlier but were delayed at the border as they didn't have the right papers for their bus. In the end they were fetched from the border and we managed to -by God's grace and Ljilja's charms- to get the bus in the next day!) 

They added some songs:
And a couple of dances to the mix: 
During both programs, the parents were upstairs having their own program about Easter:
We also took both teams separately to the Children's Home to have a program there: The Austrians shared about Austria:
Before each child was given the chance to decorate a photo frame: And the team even had a photo printer, so they could have a photo in the frame:
Along with some funny glasses, so as to make it even more special:
As you can see, the kids really enjoyed this!
The Norwegians went later on in the week, and had a great program, including songs and dance, and even a magician (me translating for him below):
 And the kids really enjoyed the singing and dancing!
During one of the overlap days, we had a joint cultural evening where we learnt the different ways that Easter is celebrated. At the end, the locals shared their tradition of "egg-hitting" where you hit each other's eggs and the one whose egg survives gets to take the other's egg.
Here is a battle between a Norwegian and an Austrian... they really enjoyed learning about this local Easter tradition!
The rest of the week, while the Austrians went to Tuzla and carried on their outreach there, the Norwegian team went to small village schools to give out "Easter" packages. And everyone had a great time:
It was a busy, but fun week for us, and we look forward to when both teams can come back!
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