Aliens and Strangers

I am a foreigner who does not speak great Croatian. While I understand and can usually communicate what I need to, it is clear that I am not from here. I have had the joy of being accepted by many in this culture and the pain of being rejected by others, simply because of my birthplace and native language.

PLEASE, TREAT THE FOREIGNERS IN YOUR LIFE JUST LIKE YOU HOPE WE GET TREATED. A kind word, a few extra seconds, an extra measure of patience, the second mile to help, and a smile might just make all the difference in the world for someone in your life today. Be like those in the first group mentioned below.

Where have I been for the past week and a half? Right here, working hard. The past ten days have been FULL of administrative and bureaucratic work. Every year we are required to get a new work permit and one-year visa. Croatia is not the easiest country in which to navigate the bureaucracy, so we utilize the services of a law firm for part of the work such as court certified translations and navigating the maze of changing requirements. Even the lawyers are often surprised by new laws and requirements. We would stand almost no chance without this help.

I get the opportunity to interact with a lot of people during this process. Since this is my third year through the system, I am getting to know several of the people at the law office, local police station, local business for notarizing documents, various government ministries, and two people at our bank.

GROUP ONE: The way people treat me is quite interesting. Some began by being very friendly and open. They have continued and only grow more so as we are here longer. While I do not know any of these away from this process, it feels as if they are friends in some way. I know a lot about their job, family, background, and some about their beliefs. They certainly bring some encouragement and help for which I am greatly thankful.

GROUP TWO: Others began by being very formal and official. Most of these, though not all, have warmed up. While they are very business-like during our interaction, they are slowly becoming more and more open and friendly. They don’t necessarily encourage me or help me but they do get the job done.

GROUP THREE: The last group is not much fun. They don’t like me because I am not from here, I talk funny, and I don’t easily understand all of their bureaucracy. They are not nice, helpful, or encouraging in any form or fashion; they require unnecessary work in the form of extra paper work, requirements which go beyond the law, and harassment through questions and comments.

I can handle the discrimination and unfriendly attitude. I can handle the extra work, wasted time, and increased expenses. I have always struggled to handle the rude questions and comments. This past year, I have either grown very hard-hearted or God really has taught me something about loving others during and through conflict. But, that is the topic for the next post.


TCKs - Third Culture Kids

Elise and I have two great teenage sons. I realize that every parent thinks their kids are the greatest but I am right.

Today is Bret’s 14th birthday. We cannot believe how young his parents feel. Yesterday morning he still wanted a ping pong table; a wish he had held for the past month. At 10 AM yesterday he decided that was not at all what he needed or wanted. A bicycle would be much better. We bought the bike. This morning he determined that actually a bike would not be all that great and he did not know what he wanted.

Well, he is in the midst of puberty and is a GREAT young man so some things are best ignored. He gets the bike, some basketball reading material from mom and dad, fajitas for dinner tonight after basketball practice, a little party and cake with mom, dad and loving big brother, money from the rest of the family, and all the love a kid could ever hope for.

Bret and Ryan thrive in Croatia. It is kind of strange having your kids grow up so different from how you did. They travel around on trams and buses in a city of million speaking a language I only kind of know. Sports are based within clubs instead schools. There are almost no fans at any sporting event for kids AND the quality is still exceptional.

Ryan travel about three hours a day to get to school and return home. He still loves the American International School of Zagreb and the 9th grade. It is very high quality and is providing him with the social outlet and education he needs. He is in a play, the Crucible, which will be performed at a theater in Zagreb on the nights of November 8th and 9th. He has also been playing on the high school basketball team.

Bret stays at home for school. We use an online academy called Northstar. It is an accredited school in the USA. He has seven subjects and communicates with his teachers over an email system that Northstar operates. The teachers post their lessons, we download and print them. There are tests, homework assignments, and quizzes. We have been very pleased with the quality of Northstar and Bret loves the freedom it gives him.

There is no travel for school and it gives him all the time in the world to focus on basketball. He plays for the club in our city. He is the sixth man on the 1991 – 92 team. They grow them big here. I don’t remember our team dunking in 8th and 9th grade but they do here.

Please, pray for our kids. These are crucial years for them. They are becoming young men and the faith of parents is not enough now. They have to decide to make it their own.


Update on Winter Housing for Widow

Twelve days ago I wrote  about the widow of a Croatian Baptist pastor who was having trouble finding an adequate place to live this winter (you can read that post by going to the October 17th entry) and how the men’s group was trying to help. Well, things have changed a bit.

We were considering upgrading the heating system, windows and insulation in a cottage that she owns. The cottage is really meant for use only during the summer. Consultation with experts in building and Maria’s experience of living in the house for a few of the relatively warm fall days have led to a new conclusion. It is not possible to heat this cottage through a Croatian winter. So, what to do now?

Three options are available. We have access to an empty house that could be used. However, the house is big (expensive to heat), needs some work (more money), and even though it is in Zagreb, is a full 30 minute walk from public transportation. It is not ideal but is better than nothing. One family has a guest bedroom that they want to offer for Maria to use. Of course, she is an independent woman who would then have to share in the life of a family she does not know. It would be a big step and hard adjustment for her. Last, some of the men are searching for a cheap room to rent in Zagreb. You need to understand that Zagreb is extremely expensive but we might be able to find an adequate one room apartment for $150 a month.

We don’t know the answer. We would ask you to join us in praying for God’s answer to be shown before winter hits. It is about to be cold. God has blessed us with an incredible fall but winter is on the doorstep. It has to be.


Bragging on the Baptist Union of Croatia

Despite the saying to the contrary, the pictures below don't communicate the unity and health experienced at the Baptist Union of Croatia's annual meeting.  So I will add a little bit.  It was the best meeting of Baptists that I think I have ever attended.  Excellent worship, preaching, and seminars were the focus.  It was really great.  However, the best thing for me was the emphasis on relationships.

 We started at 10 AM.  Lunch was from noon until 3 PM.  Fellowship, encouraging one another, and getting to know new people were activities that were encouraged and time was even provided for them.  I did not have to sneak out into the lobby and talk quietly in the corner as if I were "getting away" with something bad.  I liked it.  The Baptist Union of Croatia is stronger for the emphasis on knowing one another.  I am better for it.

 I wonder why I like to be so busy?  Why does it feel unproductive at times to just sit down, have a cup of coffee with a friend and get to know them a bit better?  I wonder if Jesus had such busy days that he didn't have time to get better acquainted with people?

Please pray for the Breakfast for Women which will be tomorrow, Saturday, morning.  This is a great outreach and practical ministry that one of our team members leads.  Nela Williams was interviewed on the radio today about this event.  Pray for the relationships developed over breakfast, the lecture that will be given and for the guests who have been invited to grow in their relationship with God.



Great Weekend for the Croatian Baptist Union

I am so sorry to have missed Friday through Sunday.  The best of intentions don't get a lot done!  This weekend I had the honor of attending the Annual meeting of the Croatian Baptist Union.  It was a great weekend.  We are blessed and humbled to serve with this group of people.  The worship, preaching, and seminars were all wonderful and I even understood most of it!

Sunday was a huge day for Baptists in this country.  From 10 - 11 AM, the main worship hour in the country, the national television service showed the Baptist Union worship service live.  It was the first time Baptists have had one of their worship services on television.  Our brothers and sisters were so encouraged and excited.  It felt like a stamp of approval. "You are not a cult or sect.  You are a real Christian group."  Not only was their worship on TV but the quality of the broadcast and, much more importantly, the service was outstanding.

Better yet, God is moving in quiet but unmistakable ways here.  There seems to be more baptisms and passion for reaching out.  Small discipleship groups are taking a more prominent place and people are having an impact on their culture.  It is a joy to watch, support and encourage.  Pray for the believer in Croatia.  I hope that tomorrow I can post some pictures and maybe even a short video of the Baptist Union assembly.