Thursday, January 21, 2010


I am sorry that I have been so quiet - I know, unusual for me! I have been BUSY! I traveled to Canada via the UK and have been here for a week already! I am staying with my brother, Kevin, his wife, Robin and my two nephews, Luke and Andrew - and am having far too much fun!!. I have put photos on my facebook page for those that are interested. Click here (even if you aren't on facebook!!) to go have a look!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Orthodox Christmas

As many of you know, I am privileged to live in a place where they celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar and so Christmas is on the 7th of January each year. Thus, I get to have two Christmas' each year! I really enjoy having such a spread out celebration of this great holiday where we get to remember that "Hristos se rodi" (Christ is born). Here the response to this greeting on Christmas day is "Vaistinu se rodi!" (He is indeed!) and my prayer is that people here would truly believe that!!!

This year, Serbian Orthodox Christmas passed by in a whirl as Ljilja and I went to four different places during the day, thus breaking my previous record of three Christmas dinners in one day! We started off at our landlady's for breakfast. After that we went with David and Antti (who was with us from Finland for 10 days) to Dragana's for lunch, and after that for tea at Ankica's. We did have a half an hour break at home before the finale at Olja and Nenad's for dinner. And if that was not enough, we went over to Tanja and Damjan's on the day after Christmas too!

Traditionally for Christmas dinner you are given soup, followed by "sarma" (stuffed cabbage), followed by "cicvara" (cooked cornmeal with "kajmak"-salted clotted cream- and sour cream...mmm!) which is only served on Christmas day. Alongside the cicvara (which is pronounced "tsitsvara") comes spit-roast pork (the tradition is to kill the pig two days before Christmas and spit roast it on Christmas eve) and all sorts of other goodies! And all this is topped off with cake and biscuits/cookies.

For those that are interested why Russian and Serbian and some other Orthodox Churches celebrate on the 7th of January: I took this from

So, why January 7?

In ancient times, many, mostly unreliable methods had been used to calculate the dates according to either the lunar or solar cycles. By Roman times, the calendar had become three months out with the seasons, so in 46 BC, Julius Caesar commissioned the astronomer, Sosigenes to devise a more reliable method. This, we know as the Julian Calendar and was used widely for 1500 years. The month of his birth, Caesar had named Quintilis, but the Roman Senate later re-named it Julius (July) in his honour. In those days, February had 30 days every 4 years.

However, this calendar was still 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the solar year, so that by the year 1580, the calendar had accumulated 10 days off again. In 1582, therefore, Pope Gregory XIII corrected the difference between the sun and calendar by ordering 10 days dropped from October, the month with the least Roman Catholic Feast days. His calendar, we know as the Gregorian Calendar, which is used in almost all of the world today. Pope Gregory made further changes to keep the calendar in line, which on average is only 26.3 seconds longer than the solar year. The Gregorian Calendar is so accurate that it will take until the year 4316 to gain a whole day on the sun.

That year, 1582, October 5th became October 15th and was immediately adopted in most Roman Catholic nations of Europe. Various German states kept the Julian Calendar until 1700. Britain and the American Colonies didn't change until 1752, but Russia and Turkey did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until the early 1900's.

So, January 7th by the Georgian Calendar would have been December 25th by the old Julian Calendar and is therefore why it is still Christmas Day for the Russian Orthodox Church. Many Russians will have celebrated along with the rest of us and will then celebrate again on the Orthodox date.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Team-building at Hajducke Vode

Our organisation was given some funds to use on training and capacity building and so we decided to use some of them on two days of team-building in the mountains (about an hour from Banja Luka). Here we all are in the hotel ("Hajducke Vode"): In case you don't know who is who: from left to right: Sinisa, his wife, Olja (from Bosnia), me, David (from Czech), Mirjam and her husband, Miika (from Finland), Dragana and Ljilja (also both local):As you can see we had some (not a lot) of snow and we made good use of it: The kids (Miika and Mirjam have four girls and Sinisa and Olja two boys) had a great time sledding and so we decided to join in:
David (show-off):Sinisa (cool guy):Me: too fast for the camera :-)
And Ljilja getting off to a good start:
Ljilja again: no comment!:
Different people have different ideas of what to wear when you go to the mountains in the snow! Ljilja with full ski suit and well, Dragana is Dragana!:We also had time to go hiking in the forest. I joined them for the first part and then left to go back to the warm hotel while they continued around the 4km track (which turned into 5km when they got lost... but they made it back safely! So glad I got a chance to have tea with Dragana instead!) This photo is of Miika, Mirjam, Ljilja, David and I, using my self-timer with my camera resting on my gloves on a branch (quite chuffed with it really):I spent the time going back to the hotel enjoying the peace and the pretty snow and taking some photos: Snow is just SO beautiful:

I did get to see a little deer in the distance (see if you can spot him in the middle looking straight at me), but the closest I got to a bear (as far as I know!!) was the one in the foyer of the hotel:

It wasn't all fun and games: we did actually do some "team-building": spending time each morning reading the Bible and discussing the plans for the coming year.
And to end off this rather long blog entry, I will show you views of the hotel ("Hajducke Vode" is in the one on the left hand side) and from the hotel windows onto the ski slope:

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Branka's in town - let's have a party!!

Branka, one of our long-time English Club members, has never been to our place (despite one attempt where she got lost on the way and gave up!) and so I thought when she was in town that we would have a party for New Year's and kind of in her honour. I didn't know that she would only be here (from Novi Sad where she is studying) for only a few days, so we had to have the party at really short notice! But despite that, we who could make it had a great time:
I was trying to get "different" or unposed photos of us, so as not to be too boring!
Here are Stasa and Raso (who is Branka's brother!); Branka and Sofija:

Ljilja, myself and Antti:

I didn't get a decent pic of David, but here is one from New Year's which is quite cute!

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year in the rain...

We were in David's flat, which is very near the main square, so we could go out closer to midnight and enjoy the concert and watch the fireworks. We should have stayed in the flat longer as when we came out it was POURING down and we all got soaked!! And then miraculously, the rain stopped and it was New Year's and the fireworks were AMAZING and worth the soaking...

While we were watching the concert (a group called "Legende" who were actually quite enjoyable!) I took some photos under the umbrella. Here am I with Branka:
David:And Antti (from Finland) with Ljilja and Dragana...
I didn't get any pics of Lea and her sisters who were also with us, but I did manage to get some really great shots of the fireworks. Here is one as proof:
We then went back to the flat and continued eating (!), drank some champagne to toast in the New Year and then shared one thing we were grateful for in the last year... and prayed for the next one. A really nice relaxed way to see in twenty-ten!!

Christmas packages at the Home and "Teta Belinda"

Yesterday we went to hand out the Christmas Packages at the orphanage. Ivana and Sofija helped me to hand them out and the kids also received other packages from other organisations at the same time! Here are some of the pictures:

Even as we were handing out the packages the Director was referring to me as "Teta Belinda" and I thought that was so funny as I recently wrote an article about being "Teta Belinda" for our YWAM Central European Newsletter about what our involvement in the home has meant to me personally... I include it below:

“Teta Belinda, Teta Belinda”
Almost two years ago, when I first asked at the Banja Luka Children’s Home whether we would be able to run some sort of English Classes for the kids when a YWAM DTS team from Northern Ireland was in town, I don’t think I could ever have realised what it would mean for me personally down the road. The director was pleased to have us come in and play games with the kids to help them have fun and maybe learn some English.

As there were 9 people in that team I asked some of the students who attend my weekly English Conversation Club to come along and help with the translation. After a month, the team left and then one of the English Club came to me and said what I had been thinking: “we could do this ourselves”.

So, since then, each week, a group of us from the Club have been going in and playing with the kids and “teaching” them English through the games. The English Conversation Club members are so happy to be given an outlet to volunteer and I love the extra interaction it gives me with them each week. As the kids are boisterous and love to have fun, it is usually loud and chaotic. My favourite game is definitely “Simon Says” where we say “Simon Says: be quiet” and whoever talks is OUT! Bliss!

Now, here in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the polite way to address someone who is older than you is “teta” (or “auntie”) and then their name: so I am “Teta Belinda” to these kids. Usually at the height of some guessing game I have 4 or 5 kids with their ‘two fingers’ in front of my face screaming “Teta Belinda, Teta Belinda” in order to be heard. Around town I can hear the delight in their voice as they see me and come running over shouting “Teta Belinda”.

And recently I realised something: even though God hasn’t yet given me any kids of my own, I am “Teta” to over 30 of them at the children’s home. I see them grow and change and some of them have become particularly dear and close to my heart. I count it an honour to be able to be a part of their lives and look forward to seeing how God will continue to use me as I am “Teta Belinda” to these, His precious children.
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