Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas Program 2018

After weeks of practising our play "Oli the Giraffe's First Christmas", it was time to put on our program and give out Operation Christmas Child packages:
We had two wonderful presenters, Marija and Lena. They started us off with a "floss" dance-competition, to see who can be quicker, them or the audience (and usually it was them!)
Bojana is our wonderful narrator:
Bojan was our Giraffe, and David and Anastasija, Mom and Dad who explain more about Christmas when Oli spots the Nativity Scene and asks about it:
Snjezana was the "littel girl" who found Oli on the street and brings him home to warm up, as he is so very cold, poor thing. And then the last character was Milica the trainer who comes to find Oli to take him back to the circus...
 After the play it was time for us to sing a couple of carols.
One of the songs is super cute and got everyone singing "Bozic je!" (It's Christmas!):

And then it is time for what everyone came for... the shoebox packages:
So many smiling faces... over 500 of them by the end of the weekend!

And Oli became famous: many the kids wanted to have their pictures taken with him!

None of this would have been possible without our wonderful children/teen volunteers. They did an amazing job, and I am so proud of all of them! This is the 5th year I have done this with them, and each year they get better and better!! 
Finally, here is a video of the actual play so you can see what it is all about. I borrowed a Giraffe suit and was given a Nativity Scene, I knew who the actors would be, so the script kind of wrote itself (with God's help!). I hope you enjoy it! I have put in English subtitles (click on CC to see them) and you might even learn some Serbian Orthodox Christmas Traditions and their origins!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Last Book Club for 2018

Last night was the last Book Club for this year... we always take the kids "prizes" for attendance, but this time we also organised a fun evening for them as well! I was a little apprehensive as to how it would work out as they can get excited and not behave well, and this format can mean they get excited... but it worked out better than I could have imagined and everyone had a phenomenal time!

We had different "stations" around the room including two crafts and a colouring table:
Three different kinds of games: including throwing into boxes to get points (I made this one in the summer for one of our day camps with our sponsorship kids with boxes I had around the house - and made pompoms to throw... and the kids love it!)
And fusball: another favourite!
We had two lovely volunteers painting faces (we only got a pic of Monika...)
And near the end of the evening there were more kids than they could finish in time, so I stepped in to help with some of the easier requests... butterflies and cats and flowers :) And of course the kids loved that "Teta Belinda" (Aunty Belinda) was doing their faces so they didn't mind that the quality was not as good... I was churning them out so we could finish up! 
Another "station" was the photobooth and they had fun with the photobooth items! (a wonderful team cut these all out in 2015, and they are still going strong!) Love it! 

One of the reasons they were probably being so good is that we also give out the "prizes" for those who have attended the book club and so if they were naughty they know they won't get their prize... This semester, I got organised and we even had a "star chart" where they got a star for coming and a star for being good until the end... And it really worked, we had fewer kids giving us problems and many more coming who wouldn't normally... love it! 
Here are two of the girls getting their "prizes" which a few volunteers and I made up on Tuesday night out of different donations: 
Then, there was a special prize on top of the attendance one for those who got ALL the stars - they got to choose one prize out of the box: I pulled out the names randomly for that one so it was fair... and they loved being able to choose what they got!!
There were only 8 volunteers and myself and we managed to pull that off with over 30 kids... I am so grateful for our wonderful volunteers! They seriously ROCK! And I am so happy that with all the planning and everything that went into last night that everyone had a fantastic time! It really was one of the best Book Clubs we have ever had! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

English Classes

It has been a year and a half since I last had an English Conversation Class and it was so nice to get back into the saddle with this great group. I unfortunately do NOT have any photos of us, so you will have to take my word for it. There were 10 students who started and only 5 came enough to get certificates, but all of them enjoyed the time together. I was helped by another native-speaker living here in Banja Luka, and that made it easier for me and also a bit more fun as well. I did a test at the end and the 5 students were almost all at different levels ranging from pre-intermediate up to advanced, but the way that we do the classes actually works well even for a range of students like this. It was just so interesting to see that they were soooo different.

So what do we do? We do activities to try and get them to talk English as much as possible. To actually try to get them to switch over into thinking in English and not just translating in their heads. This works better with the upper-intermediate and advanced students of course, but it also helps those who are not as advance a chance to improve their English. We actually started with 2 more students who came to the first class and were not able to converse at all, and this format is not able to help them - they have to have a certain level (pre-intermediate) to be able to do this class...

We play games, do speed dating style talking activities (this is actually my favourite as they ask the same questions and have to answer them each time as well - and repetition is the best way to learn!), mingle activities, group activities, pair activities... we usually focus on a topic or a grammar point (sometimes both!) and have a lot of fun!

Learning another language is never easy and the motivation to learn needs to come from the students themselves and those that do the best are the ones who have that motivation! I love teaching English and helping others not only improve their English and chances for a better job, but also just encouraging them to be motivated not only in learning English, but also in the rest of their lives as well! 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Children's Theatre Visit

Instead of having Book Club at the Home for two weeks, we took two groups of around 15 children to the Children's Theatre to watch shows there. The older kids went first, and of course I didn't get a pic with them - but they had a good time. We walked into town (about 20 minutes) and back (and also a bit around town - more about that later) which made it more fun (they are 11-15 years old so can handle it!).

After the show came out, I wanted to treat them to something (usually in the summer we do icecream, but it is November, so it is a bit too cold!) and I spotted a lady selling popcorn. Perfect! We had hung around at the theatre afterwards, so we were some of the last to leave. When she heard we were from the Home she also gave us the leftover popcorn as she was heading home... This was the start of the kids eating a LOT of popcorn... one of them came to me and said "it is magic, I keep eating, but my popcorn box is never empty". So cute!

The funnest part of the evening for the kids was when 5 of them and a volunteer went running around a department store trying to track down one of the contestants on a local "The Voice" equivalent to get photos with him... luckily when they tracked him down he was quite a obliging! The rest of us waited outside (wondering what was taking them so long!) and eating popcorn...

The next week we took the younger kids - this time it was colder and so we didn't walk, but got a ride! But we were lucky in that there was a special celebration of "Preemie Day" so there was lots of food and drinks after the show... but we still found the popcorn lady and made her day by buying popcorn (and she again made ours and gave us the leftovers!).

This time the play was "The Frog Prince" (or as they called it "King Frog") and I unfortunately missed the part where the Frog is kissed as I was taking 4 kids to the toilet... oh well. As you can see we also had a few volunteers join us, not like 2 years ago when through various misunderstandings I was left with 14 kids by myself... The Children's Theatre also deserves a big accolade as they provide the seats for us free of charge!! And that means a LOT! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ljilja's mom and sister do Banja Luka!

It has been 15 years of Ljilja being my housemate, and in that time, her sister has come to visit numerous times, but her mom, Ankica, has never been... until now! It was time for her to see where we live and enjoy the sights of Banja Luka.

Here she is with Ljilja at the fortress "Kastel":
 And she didn't come alone... Sladja, Ljilja's younger sister came along for the ride as well:
We did try to show her a good time by pampering her as much as she would allow: 
But mostly she spoilt us by cooking ALL.THE.TIME - she made at least two meals a day while she was here, so we could also freeze a LOT so we could also eat home cooked food even once she was gone! Whenever Ljilja goes home, she always sends us piles of food - but I did show her that I could cook, by cooking a couple of times, and she was amazed by how equipped our kitchen is. I think she thought we never cooked at all! Now she knows better - but it is still great to have a stocked freezer, which will make our lives easier for many weeks!

It was great fun having Ankica and Sladja here with us... and look forward to their next visit!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Children's Home | Children's Week and Book Club

Children's Week is always held here in the first week of October. We usually do something to try and celebrate it. The theme this year was "Believe in yourself". We went in on a Sunday afternoon and had a great time with the kids:

We made butterflies and then put them on two posters with one of my favourite sayings:
'A child is like a butterfly in the wind.
Some can fly higher than others;
But each one flies the best it can.
Why compare one against the other?
Each one is different.
Each one is special.
Each one is beautiful.'
And then added "Believe in yourself" at the end...
Here they are hanging in the entrance to the home :)
We then started the Book Club with my friend Jelena who read us her favourite poem:
 We also made cute little owl jars - which we will use each week to put in "wise quotes". And of course I didn't get any pictures of them...

The next week we made little "readers" - super cute!
We made the readers to place them on posters telling us reasons why reading is good for us: including "lowers stress levels" and "improves memory" and my favourite: "it is the best adventure".
As we will not be going to the Library in this semester (they are busy moving...), I decided that the reading club members needed to have something else to read. As we were given a great magazine for readers from 7 to 107, I gave them out to the kids: It is called "Politikin Zabavnik" and is put out by "Politika newspapers" in Serbia.
And I had a stroke of genius, and made it a "lucky draw" as to which magazine they got, so no one could complain and making it feel like a "prize" meant they all wanted one... let's hope they actually read them!!

I am so grateful to my wonderful volunteers who come along and help us with this project... We have about 30 kids and about 30 volunteers, but as they don't come at ones, it is usually 1 volunteer with 1-2 kids, although some weeks it can just be 6-7 of us with all of them!

And I love that the old volunteers stay in touch: This week 11 of the younger kids are going to have a special outing because of one of my old volunteers - they will go to the play place she helps at, get special costumes and face make up and then have a photographer who will take pictures of them before they have a party. All provided for by donations. The best part is that the photos will be used to make a calendar that the Home can use for their other donors as a thank-you. How fun is that! And we will also organise something fun for the rest of the children so they don't feel like they have missed out!! 

nConnect and ACTs Together

It looks like all I ever do is travel these days... but actually I am 3 weeks into a 3 month no-flying (which actually does go to show how much I travel if 3 months of no flying is amazing! And I will still be travelling a little bit by bus, train or car, so I won't actually be in Banja Luka for all 3 months! But still... 3 months without flying somewhere whohoo!)

In September, before I even came home from Thailand, I travelled to Montenegro for the annual "nConnect" conference with Samaritan's Purse. We met together with the Montenegrins, Macedonians and Albanians. It was nice to be with most of our Bosnian team (but we missed those who weren't able to come last minute :( ) and to work on the strategy for giving out of Christmas Packages through Operation Christmas Child this year.

We also got to enjoy an outing to the Blue Cave, although as we had to wait until we were done for the day, it wasn't as blue as it gets at lunch time, but it was still a lovely experience:
And we enjoyed a fun sing-along (ex-Yugoslavia style!) on the way back on the boat...

I was back in Banja Luka for almost 2 weeks, before it was time to go again - this time to a new country: Georgia. We held a leadership conference there called "ACTs Together" and it was a wonderful time together with leadership teams from across Europe. It was also great to connect with our leadership team live... this is how we normally do it:
The conference is held every two years, and has plenary sessions in the morning and then in the afternoons you meet in your Area Circle Team (or ACT):
We did manage to make it out of the conference room at the hotel and enjoy some sight-seeing at some ancient monasteries, which was fun. Here is the whole group:
I was helping with the conference admin/logistics and despite it being busy as a result, I find these conferences so much nicer when I have something to do! And I love serving others in this way. I also realise how much easier it is for me than so many other people: it is just the way God wired me... and I know that I am appreciated which makes it easy to do!

Now, I will continue to enjoy using my gifts of organisation to organise things here in Banja Luka!! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

YWAM Together | Thailand 2018

Earlier this year, we were discussing who would be able to go to the big YWAM Conference called "YWAM Together" to represent our region of Central Europe. As I am one of the people who helps lead this region, it looked as if it would be my turn to go. I was still debating whether I should go or try and get someone else, when my good friend (and former colleague), Rebecca, wrote to ask if I would come along to the conference and help her in the communications side of things: specifically to run the iCentre (or information centre). I wrote back to her to say "does it make me crazy that I want to come more now?". So off to Thailand I went...

The conference was huge - almost 4000 people, and I and a team of 24 volunteers were tasked to help answer people's questions. And do you know how many questions 4000 can have? A LOT! We had a lot of information on an app called Whova, and so people could also figure things out that way, but a lot of people also needed help with the app :) Below I am with some of the team (all serving in the Philippines):
I thought we would have a lot of people on the first day and then after that it would kind of calm down, but every day there was something new from workshops, to roundtable discussions, etc. And on the two last days it was decided that we would offer transport back to the airports (we weren't going to and then the hotel complex freaked out at having to do it, so we ended up doing it last minute and we helped out...) so it NEVER calmed down...

But, despite the fact I didn't actually get into many of the sessions I LOVED IT! I was able to troubleshoot and figure things out and just use the gifts that God has given me to serve... and the conference was soooo well run and the leaders so appreciative of what I brought, that it made it easier.

I did manage to get into some of the sessions (4 of the 12) and be a part of a workshop and a roundtable. I also got to have some meetings with people and a lovely lunch with those who came from Central Europe, so it wasn't all work and no play - but it was definitely different than I had thought it would be!

In the middle of the conference they sent everyone out into the city to do some sort of outreach - from prison ministry to schools, to bible distribution. Seriously well organised - sending out 3500 people!! I stayed back to try and have a break and catch up with myself... however, the emergency phone ended up staying with me... and then people's songthaews (Thai version of a taxi) started not showing up on time... (remember 1000s of people, so some thing will always go wrong!!) so the phone started ringing off the hook...  I was giving out phone numbers and answering questions on the app... all while sitting in a little hot tub near the swimming pool - I was determined to get a bit of water time in, and that was all I could do, but I am sure everyone else wasn't too amused with me!! But at least I did enjoy my outreach day :)

There were over 100 nations and 77 languages, and I was also involved in getting information/ announcements translated into 5 of them... both before and after the conference. It was amazing how committed the translators were to making sure that their people could understand what was going on! And it was a privilege to have a small part in that...

I came away with many new friends with whom I fought in the trenches during the week and even though it was hard work and loooooong hours, I would do it all over again!!

On the day after the conference finished, I was part of a gathering of leaders from all over the world. It was the main reason I went - to be a part of that meeting. And out of the over 100 leaders there, I just happened to sit at the table with our founders, Loren and Darlene Cunningham and some other senior leaders. It was completely by accident (there was no one there when my friend and I joined the table, and we sat near the front as he didn't have his glasses with him!) and yet felt like a little "well done" to me from God!! Love it!

Otherwise, I leave you with the highlight video of the whole week... it is amazing and gives a feel for what it was like to have so many people from so many different countries together in one place:

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