Monday, June 23, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Sremska Mitrovica

Yes, It is time (the time we thought would never come) to finish this mission, say goodbye and come home.  It is weird how we have looked forward to this time and now that it is really here, it is difficult to face.  As I have said many times, we have come to love these people and they really are our Serbian Family.  When church is so small, members really bond and care about one another.

Our sweet branch minus a couple of people
Our newest investigator is Mira who became acquainted with our church when she started coming to English class.  We have known her most of our mission and just recently she has shown an interest in the church.  She is a wonderful woman and a good friend and we so hope she decides to join the church. 

Alan, Sis. Sturtevent, Sis. Seelos, Mira, and Sis. Palmer (every beautician over here seems to think I need blond, blond hair--can't wait to come home)
Our last District Meeting: (L to R) Radovanovic, Christensen, Sturtevent, Mourtison, Palmer & Dyer
 Alan had arranged with the Humanitarian missionaries for 25 trees to be presented to the Ecological group here in Sremska.  Last week Dragan, who is a leader in that group, came to the church with his son, Ivan (to interpret), and presented Alan with a nice 'Thank You Certificate' and expressed their appreciation to the church.  We have to hope that little gestures like this helps create a good image for the church.  
Alan, Dragan, and Ivan

I recently had a birthday here and birthdays and holidays here kind'a come and go without much fanfare.  But the Vucenovic family brought me over a nice surprise that made this day very special.  Duska made me one of her famous cakes and they sang Happy Birthday and presented me with a beautiful pair of earrings that she purchased in Malta.
Alan got to the cake before my camera did.
Also, and I am not sure if it was because of my Birthday or the fact that we are leaving but the city has had fireworks for two nights.  Isn't that sweet of them :)
We have a perfect view from our balcony and really enjoyed the show.
We finally caught a picture, but they were much more spectacular than this picture shows.

We are fairly busy this week because Nemanja has been called on a Mini Mission to Belgrade and we will take him over on Tues. and meet with his parents for the last time.  (that will be hard)  We are so excited for him but not as excited as he is. He will be a great missionary. 
This is the total of our YM/YW program--Nemanja, Ada, and Milecia.  They will miss him.
Wed. we have to clean this apartment (Ug) and visit with the Ivanovic family--it will be hard to tell them goodbye.  I will take pictures and post them.  We are going this afternoon to have lunch with the Vucenovic family.  This is the hardest part, saying goodbye to the people here that mean so much to us.

Thurs. we are going with the Sisters to Zagreb so we can pick up the van 'Box' and bring it back to put all our luggage in plus Sister Palmer's luggage and transport her to Novi Sad Friday morning where we will pick up Sister Christensen who is going home because of illness.  Then we will travel to Zagreb again and Sat. morning we are on our way.

Our 'Only in Serbia' moment:  Since this is an old Roman city we wanted to take a picture of something Roman to represent the town.  We looked all over for a statue of some Emperor or Chariot or something and the only statue we have found is this:
I don't think these were Emperors but we haven't been able to find out what they represent.

Also, Alan bought home what he says is a picture of him doing his hard work...Judge for yourself.
Should I believe him?
I may try and do one more post before we come home or soon after.  We were nervous about coming on a mission and then when we found that we were coming to Serbia, we were really nervous.  Such an unknown place with a history of wars. But we are so Thankful that we were assigned here and have met these wonderful people.  They will always have a special place in our hearts.  And we know that because we have been out here helping take care of our Heavenly Father's children, he has blessed our children and we will be eternally grateful for that.  Our best to all of you and a special Thank You for your prayers on our behalf.  We have felt and appreciated everyone of them.  We can't wait to see and visit with each of you. See you very soon!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cheering and Limping

It has been an exciting, eventful, and painful two weeks....We recently delivered the hygiene and school humanitarian kits to the special needs school.  They were so appreciative of our donation and it was fun to meet some of the children.  They have two special needs schools in Sremska; one for older children (up to 26 years of age) and a younger school.  Our neighbor (a teacher there), through whom we arranged this donation. has been so much more friendly towards us.  Before she tended to avoid us fearful that all we would do was preach to her.  It seems that being able to make these small donations has done much for improving relationships and opening doors for the church and missionaries here in Sremska. Our missionaries will also plant some of the trees we've ordered at this school in the fall.
Our neighbor and teacher at the school (Snezana) and Alan

Some Children from the school, the blond woman is the principal...The man in the white shirt is gradually becoming Special Needs.

I had a minor accident at the church when I went to move one of our 2 ton collapsed on my foot and broke my big toe and possibly my second toe. It hurt so bad, I just sat there and cried.  We didn't get it x-rayed because I could feel that it was broken and for broken toes you just tape and limp until they get better.  So I have stayed close to home trying to avoid limping (very slowly) up and down the stairs.  But it is on the mend and doing better.  The pictures are 'ugly rated' so look at your own risk. 

This was taken immediately after...the toes and foot got blacker and more swollen.

No, that is not a green swollen toe...Ivan said to wrap it in cabbage to help healing so we did this for his benefit.

We're almost done...(you can open your eyes soon)  Splint and bandage
Moving on to more cheerful things!  June is the "month of invitation" for the mission and the missionaries have worked hard to encourage members to invite their friends and neighbors to church.  Our emphasis was for the 8th of June (yesterday) and we prayed and fasted that we would have a good attendance of non-members at church.  HURRAY, we did.  We had 30 people attend church (15 non-members)...the most we have had since we arrived.  We had the Kosovo family attend that had come to our activity because we had given them some Hygiene kits for their Kosovo Group.  They are a great family...she is a lawyer; plus another member of the group came with them.

Refugee family from Kosovo...The young boy Aleksander comes to our English class
We also had Mirko who is an English student that attends church now and then and his wife.  We had never met his wife but she seemed to enjoy coming and we have hopes that she will come more often.  Mirko rides his bike at least 10 miles each day and then goes to some hot springs for medicinal cleansing.  He is a very healthy man for his age.
Mirko, his wife and our missionaries.
 We were really excited to see Grandma Ivanovic's husband there.  He has always said that he would not become a member.  Nada (Grandma) was one of the first members in Serbia and has always wanted her husband to become a member. This is only the second time he has been to church since we have been here.  His daughter invited him.  After church he told his wife, "I will come to church, but I can't be a Mormon". (At least not yet, line upon line) Our branch President's family lives with them. Unfortunately our branch pres. and his family did not come to church or we would have had 35 people.
Duska Vucenovic (daughter), Grandpa Ivanovic and Grandma Ivanovic
We had several others attend and we felt the spirit in attendance as well...we hope they too received a special feeling of peace and truth. 

Next week, Alan and I are speaking and we know it will be so difficult.  We will both have a difficult time expressing our love for everyone without dissolving into tears and probably the 'ugly' sobs.  Oh dear, pray that we can hold it together.  The following Sunday is our district conference in Belgrade and our exit interview with Pres. Rowe.  He also leaves for home on July 1st just 3 days after us.  The new mission Pres. arrives 8:00 am at the mission home, the two couples have 3-4 hours together and then Pres. Rowe and his family depart.  The church does not allow them much time together.  They like each new Pres. to have a fresh start. When we leave there will not be another couple arriving in the mission until Aug. (and then we are not sure they will come here) so the couple staying in Belgrade will cover both cities.  They will live in our apartment 3-4 days a week.  Elder and Sister Morgan arrived in May and are from Roy, Utah.  They are coming to spend the day tomorrow to become oriented to Sremska, the apartment, and church items.  They are going to be busy missionaries for a while.

OK, so that is the last of the pictures because like many other times, I am having picture problems.  Sorry, but I am "Blog slow and weary".  And I had a great picture for 'Only in Serbia'.

Alan and I are working to complete several projects before we leave.  We are having the district missionaries here on Wed. and we will clean up our nine-mile member's home in Sasinci because he has to leave Sremska and move back.  The house is in terrible condition and presently has no running water, electricity, or stove and refrigerator.  His cousins are supposed to help with those items.  We also are having branch FHE tonight, and Activity night on Friday, plus a big dinner on Sunday.  And in the meantime we will pack, visit, clean, sort, and give away. We may need a long rest when we get home....No. We Will Need A Long Rest When We Get Home! So hard to believe that it is almost at an end...We love these people.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Flooding and more

As most of you know, the Balkans have had huge rains and rising rivers, especially Bosnia and Serbia.  They say the rivers are at a 120 year high level.  And although we saw the river rise last year, we are amazed this year how much more it rose. All cities that are adjacent to one of the large rivers have 16 foot earth dikes built along the river to stop flooding.  However, some of the small towns along smaller waterways do not have dikes and it is those towns that really flooded and had mudslides.  They were really worried about Sremska because the water level was coming up fast and near the top of the dike.  So one night bus loads of men arrived,  I mean over a thousand men, and they had sand and bags brought in and built a 5 mile sandbag addition to the top of the dike.  And not just on this side of the river, but on both sides.  It truly was amazing.  Alan went down to help fill sandbags for our friend Ivan and his dad because their house backs the dike. Ivan told the workers he was from Sweden because he was worried that he would get harassed because he is American. (Many really do not like Americans) Woman were basically not allowed to help.  (Heavens, this is man's work)  People here were very nervous and they evacuated several blocks by the river on both sides. Nemanja and his family were sent to a school further inland.  Our apartment building was in the evacuation area but since we are on the third floor, we stayed in and watched the city below.  The Orthodox church and Catholic churches offered prayers and our whole mission fasted and prayed that God would temper the elements.  And Sremska was blessed, the rains subsided and the water did not go over the banks.  I know it must have been our missionaries prayers that made the difference :o).............
Everywhere you looked, there were men filling and placing sandbags

The wall of sandbags went on for 5 kidding!

That is the tops of trees that you see.

The water is at the top of the 16 foot dike

Entrance to restaurant that is about 13 feet above river
Because of the possible flooding, ofcourse they cancelled school but the interesting thing is that the next week the weather was good and the river waters were going down but they did not start school again.  School will start tomorrow, about 10 days after any danger of flooding.  Also they closed the big major grocery stores for 6 days....just in case.

People did not want to allow the missionaries to volunteer but finally the humanitarian missionaries were able to convince the Red Cross to allow the "male" missionaries from Belgrade to come.  It has been helpful because they have answered many questions about the church and handed out several BOMs.  The mission President hopes that there will be more opportunities to volunteer when they start clean up after clearing land mines that have been displaced. 

Well enough about the flood....on a Sat. in the middle of the flood preparations we had a scheduled morning to put humanitarian kits together.  So we went ahead and poor Nemanja had been up all night filling sandbags but he came.  We had only three members show up so we missionaries and the 3 members put together hygiene and school kits for the special needs school.
Our sweet hardworking members...Drangan, Zivan and Nemanja.
We had some extra hygiene kits and we gave them to a group that Dragan belongs too, which is the Kosovo Refugee organization and the leaders of this group came on Activity night to thank the church.
Nemanja, Dragan and Sladjana are some of the leaders because they are refugees from Kosovo
I know this blog is going on forever...but it is our journal, so bear with me....

Because of the floods and evacuation, we had to cancel church on Sunday May 18th.  But it was heartwarming yesterday when we had 27 to church.  We had several visitors (people who have not yet allowed missionaries to teach them the lessons...usually English students or curious friends of members) and two investigators.  We also have a new Sister from California who took our Sister Matthews place who had knee problems and is now serving in the mission office.
Sister Palmer and Sister Sturtevent...Sister Palmer (after 10 months) will be transferred...probably this week.

I will finish with our "Only in Serbia" moment!  In Belgrade there are several buildings that were bombed during the war.  The Serbians have kept these buildings "as is" as a monument and reminder of what the Americans did to them. They are truly eye sores.  They forget that our government called and warned them about the bombing and then bombed at night when the buildings were hopefully empty.  (oops, I didn't mean to make it sound like bombing are OK)
Government building in the middle of downtown Belgrade.
Well enough for this week...we are starting to try and think ahead to cleaning, sorting, packing as we get ready to come home.  But it is difficult.  I find myself crying whenever I think about it.  These sweet people have become our Serbian family and we can't imagine leaving them.  It will be soooo hard!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

46 years continued!!!

I will try again to finish the blog that I started yesterday....
This picture was taken at the Castle entrance and we laugh because it could be a before and after picture, "I used to be a man of steel and now I am a man of much less steel."

Alan gave me flowers for our anniversary picked and arranged by his own hand.  Isn't he creative.

 Just before we left for Slovenia, we stopped by a village that had an old abandoned church.  You don't often see churches that aren't taken care of and this is the only abandoned church that we have seen...but it was still so interesting in its dilapidated state of disrepair.  We stopped to take a few pictures (many pictures really) and ended up meeting a woman who has planted flowers and a garden on one side of this abandoned church.  When we ask if we could take pictures, she invited us into her garden.  (It is amazing what can be conveyed without the benefit of the same language).  She and her husband were working on this garden which made this church even more beautiful.  She gave us a rose and some other flowers to take with us.  We had a delightful 'gesturing' visit and were reminded that people everywhere are the same and appreciate being recognized for their hard work.

Looking through the church to the other side

Another view through the church

Not as pretty as a whole, but individual parts are great.

Our sweet lady and her Garden
This blog is  brief and mostly pictures, but when I'm old and senile it will jog my mind and memories.  Our "Only in Serbia" moment this time is two pictures.

This is a Serbian 7-11...A quick stop store where you can buy snacks and  minutes for your phone.

This beautiful sunrise greeted us the very next morning after arriving home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

46 years and only 30 to go!

Yes, although we don't look old enough, Alan and I celebrated our 46th year Anniversary on May 10th.  Last year we were still relatively new to the mission and didn't dare leave our assigned area.  We have since learned that the Mission Pres. encourages travel within the mission, so this year we took an anniversary trip.  It will be our last trip until we trip home.  We traveled to see our favorite part of the mission, Slovenia.  

We went back to our favorite castle (and there are many many castles in Slovenia) the Predjama Castle and then 9 miles up the road we went to the Postojna Cave. This cave is one of the largest in the world with huge interior rooms inside...rooms like ballrooms.  A train takes you into the cave for about 8 kilometers after which you walk quit a bit.  It was a nice walk except at the beginning there was a lot of climbing (During the climb, I didn't see anything around me for concentrating on breathing).  There were some amazing stalagmites and stalactites.  The cave was well lite and touristy but amazing to see.

What they call a train...but more like a Disneyland ride.

A huge white Stalagmite that is really pretty

The yellow coloring is from the lighting.
 The Predjama Castle is wonderful but I have talked about it in past blogs but will include this picture to remind you of it's beauty.
You can go through the castle back into the cave which extends for several miles.
Alan, being the geologist that he is, says that Slovenia is known for the many caves and has some of the largest in the world.

We also traveled to Lake Bled, but this time continued on to a lake situated above Lake Bled that was just as beautiful.  The country side is indescribable as to it's beauty and greenness.
You can see from the area around the lake that there are lush forests
We also drove to where the Sava River, that is so huge here, originates as just a stream and back to Lake Bled.  It was so busy with tourists on this Sat. that we didn't stop but continued back to Ljublijana to spend some time in the Center.

Slovenia is much more modernized and clean compared to Serbia.  We saw several castles and wish that we had more time to poke around.  We did stop as a castle that is truly picturesque from the auto-put.  It turned out that it is now Hotel Grad Morrice.

View from Auto-put

I always thought entrances to castles were bigger...there is a large inner courtyard.

We had a relaxing adventure and will always treasure the beautiful country that is here in the Balkans.  Very seldom to you hear about people wanting to take a trip to the Balkans, and yet it is truly a beautiful place.  I am so thankful that we have had this opportunity.

Our little branch is doing well except we lost Sister Matthews who was transferred to the mission office in Zagreb because of reoccurring knee pain and swelling.  They have not been able to find the cause yet but think that it is a result of over-use. She goes home the end of July, so will probably finish her mission in the mission office.  This has been hard on her because she is a hard working devoted Sister.  But I told her not to feel bad because she has already worked as hard as two missionaries while being here.  We got a Sister Sturtevant from California and Sister Palmer is still here for at least another 3 weeks.  She is a trooper!

As usual I am having problems getting more pictures to upload and so I will finish this Blog and do another one soon with more continued pictures.

We hope everyone had a delightful Mother's Day.  No matter the country, Mother's are important and special.  They not only shape our lives but they shape our countries.  We may not all teach the same things, but generally, we love our children and families the same way.  May God's love be with all the woman of the world.