- In these two days (2nd Jan 2014)
In these two days, we basically had two orientation sessions from Andy, where he talked about the history of Croatia and therefore the people’s social culture, as well as the ministry here as in how he and Lim started I-club and UNA Club. This has helped us a lot in understanding the attitude of the older generations and the society the Roma people are living in. Moreover we also had a lot of Croatian language lessons from Zelkja. We are feeling an increasing need to really grasp the language or at least the basics, as we really want to communicate with the kids in the village, and it felt so bad when kids kept talking to you and you failed to understand a word…
We have started to truly see the needs of the Roma kids as well as the environment they live in after visiting their village. We went there to invite kids to our Christmas parties tomorrow. The parents are much more opened and have mostly consented their 6-12 year old children to come to the party!! While our translators were doing the invitations, others took the “distraction jobs” which was to distract and play with the kids so they would not be “crowding” the doors of the houses. Instead of bringing in love and hope, I really want to express how blessed I am to actually be welcomed and embraced and loved by the kids. They may have violent behaviours among themselves, but their needs are just like ours. They have so much love to give away but their expressions might not have attracted recipients back home… Anyway, we can share more, personally, when we are back. Haha.
We have been practicing and preparing for tomorrow’s Christmas party this evening. Wish everything goes well in God’s will tomorrow
- Home Visitations (10th Jan 2014)
This is the first time in Andy and Lim’s ministry that we can visit the families and parents in the Roma village (we have been doing UNA activities with the kids for 3 years). We were put into three groups to go into houses and tell them about the Christmas story and the gospel; and as Andy summed up tonight, we have visited 60 houses out of like 175 houses in the village; and around 25 have shown interest in having bible study sessions!! The families are generally very friendly and welcoming, and many of them are receptive.
Each visit was an interesting journey. There is a strong influence of Jehovah Witnesses over the village. According to Zeljka, missionaries of JW have been working in the village since 1998. Some families expressed that this religion has brought them restrictions and so they do not like it. Yet many are still under the influence of it, that they respect our Bible but did not want to read it, and rejected our offer of further bible study sessions with Andy. It is hard, as during our visits, most of them actually said they believe in God and Jesus; but from what they said, they were clearly not Christians as what we thought in mind. They might be interpreting ‘believe’ in a different way. We did not want to get into severe debates with them at this point… maybe later in bible sessions? But apart from JW, there are also believers of Orthodox and Islam. And with the strength from God, we have been constantly fighting at the frontier of the spiritual war
As one of our translators and co-workers Palma said, these 10 days is like a big breakthrough!
- End of 2nd day (5th Aug 2014)
Today is the end of our 2nd full day here and it’s only now that we have had some time to stop!
We thank God for bringing us here safely and we were greeted by the amazing team here with a stuffed pepper and mashed potato lunch!
It’s been a full 2 and a half days already, preparing for the UNA festival. We’ve been preparing crafts and also meeting our UNA club helpers who are teenagers from the Roma village. It is a real encouragement that for the 2nd year in a row, the children in the village can actively take part in the UNA festival. It shows that the team here have built solid trusting relationships with the children and the children are actively owning and taking part in the running of the UNA festival.
We have been going to the village everyday to promote the UNA festival, which involves walking around the village, but as it rained so hard today we had to think of an alternative way to attract interest! We decided to try out the famous loomband craze and about 30 children turned up, including a large number of boys! We were amazed by how well the children focused and concentrated for over an hour! In the 3 years that I have been coming here, I have never seen the children so focused before, praise God!
As a group, what we have been finding is that although we are limited in our Croatian language, we can find other ways of communicating, and showing love and care to the children and adults. We are being challenged to question who we think we are, laying aside our educational backgrounds, jobs, background and upbringing and reflecting on what it means to be a child of God, who shows us love, grace and mercy as the foremost of our identity, rather than on what status we think we have.
Due to the rain, we are having to start the UNA festival later and reschedule the initial programme. Please pray that we would have good weather so that we are able to go ahead.
We also thank God for bringing us together as a team, as a family who can support one another in various different ways. As we seek to be Christ to the Roma village, The Lord is also using this time so that we can be Christ to one another too.
- Aggression, Passion and Love (11th Aug 2014)
If i had to describe this year’s Croatia stm so far in 3 words, it would result in aggression, passion and love. The team we have been working with to prepare for the UNA Festival have so much passion and love for the children in the village and this area. I can see that God has really blessed this team in many ways and has provided them constantly to be able to continue working with our ccil team, and showing love to the children in the village.
The village is filled with excitement, smiles, mosquitos, chaos and insanely active kids. However, it also surprises me how much anger, frustration and violence is shown just by observing the community. The children show aggression to each other through craving for attention and wanting your touch, which is difficult to watch. But in my perspective, this aggression shouldn’t exist at all because we are not well known, like celebrities, but we are treated just like them, as they are running after our cars and greeting us once we step foot into the village. This is the hardest challenge i have experienced so far in this mission as i have been called to show God’s love to the kids. However they’re remembering my name, screaming and shouting “ETAIN”, and thanking me constantly; when they should be seeing that all the love we show to them, is actually through Jesus Christ. Therefore they should be shouting His name and remembering what He has done for them. Another challenge i have experienced in the village is the language barrier. Being able to speak the simple croatian such as “how are you”, is not enough to fully connect with the children and share God’s word. You stand there feeling frustrated and useless because you want to reach out to them and have a full conversation but all you can say is “good” and “chicken”.
The feelings i have felt from the village have been so mixed that it has become almost indescribable. Hearing about the village is completely different to actually experiencing it yourself. Sometimes our team returns back to the apartment so fulfilled but sometimes we return emotional and scared. The power of prayer has really helped us to get through eventful days and connecting with the children.
Overall these past 7 days have been overwhelming both positively and negatively. Hopefully these last 5 days i will overcome my challenges and encourage the kids to build better relationships with each other and a relationship with God.
- Sit by Window (12th Aug 2014)
With the opportunity to stay at the apartment today and look after MeiHar (please continue to pray for her physical healing), I am blessed with time. A time for contemplation, reflection and prayer as I sit by the window taking a moment to gather my thoughts and watching the world go by in Slovonski Brod. Jesus’ heart for his creation and every person He has made is profound- everybody has a part to play in the shaping of community. This being my first missions trip, I’m deeply encouraged by the journey of friendship, community and partnership we can share with one another because of the love of Jesus. Friendship with the Roma children requires actions over words; experiencing authentic communion as a STM team takes quality time to build and partnership with Andy, Lim and the local helpers welcomes humility and joy in working alongside one another. Partnership in the gospel regardless of cultural, language and social barriers is beautiful.
I am touched by the dedication of the team already out here and their hearts to go above and beyond, loving the Croatians here day in, day out and watching the children grow up as if they were their own. I have seen their passion and joy in serving even through tiredness from the exhausting summer heat and packed schedules. Their willingness to help is contagious and I ask too, that Jesus will fill me with a greater capacity to serve and love others the same way even beyond this trip.
I have been refreshed daily by the essence of God’s mission and his heart for the people of Croatia- His love goes above and beyond human comprehension. If my heart melts at the sight of a child engaging with the UNA festival, how much more does our GREAT Heavenly Father desire these children to come to Him?! I am awestruck that God has chosen to include us in HIS story for the Roma people. Whatever gifts, roles, duties that have been required of us during our time here; we have had a part to play in God’s bigger picture and we can be confident in trusting He will use these to bless others in ways we least expect. God has already gone before us, He has begun a good work here and is turning this wilderness into something so beautiful (Isaiah 43:19)