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!

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... 
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