Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Past and Christmas Future

Traditional Christmas is past but here in Serbia we are now looking forward to Christmas future on Jan. 7th.  But as we drive around, you don't see decorated houses with lights or 20 blow up toys in the yard.  You don't see Christmas trees lite up in windows or people carrying wrapped packages.  It's very sedate.  The Traditional Christmas here was very different because people were doing their usual bustling around and all the stores were business as usual. It does make you reflect more on the true meaning of Christmas and the Spirit of Christ, but the secret ingredient to a wonderful Christmas is truly family.

We had a quiet reflective time in the morning and visited with several of our family.  Then in the afternoon the Sisters came over to call their families after which we had dinner and just visited and enjoyed the evening.  A very different that makes us so appreciate the hustle and bustle of home.  We were invited to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve but Alan and I both knew that we were too tired to stay awake for that.  We did have a lot of Serbian friends text us Christmas Greetings which was so appreciated.

The Sunday before Christmas we had a Seminary Dinner here for the youth. I had made some homemade Ranch Dressing and they had never tasted Ranch dressing before.  They loved it and besides using it on their salad they were even spreading on bread.  I thought I might have to provide glasses for them to drink it.  They had also never ever played the 'right/left' gift exchange game.  We all laughed a lot and enjoyed just visiting.  We were surprised they stayed all afternoon and finally left around 6:00 pm.
The two on the left side are the sister missionaries and Aleksander isn't in this picture.

Right and Left Game  (Elder and Sister Goodsell also came
for dinner...He is first counselor to the mission Pres.)

It was a busy week because we also traveled to Zargreb for the mission Christmas party.  The Zone leaders had the big van and came from Belgrade to pick us up on the way.  We had traveled 45 min. from Sremska when one of the zone leaders realized he didn't have his passport so we had to turn around and travel clear back to Belgrade which was 1 1/2 hours back to get his passport and then return.  We were about 2 1/2 hrs. late for the party.  The Elder driving was driving so fast that another Elder leaned over to me and said "Thank goodness the Church is true or we would have wrecked by now".  It made for a long day.

Missionaries from five countries makes for a transportation nightmare to get everyone there. .. but fun was had by all.
On Christmas Eve Alan, I, and the Sisters went caroling with a plate of treats for families and investigators in our little branch..10 homes in all.  We sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in English (it doesn't translate into Serbian)
 but people understood.

We hoped it was the thought that counted.
We are leaving for Slovenia tomorrow for four days of youth conference ..."never a dull moment".

We may be in Serbia but we did have all the comforts of home on Christmas ...even if it was "Only in Serbia".  We not only had warm hearts, but warm hands as well. :o)

Our own Fireplace...It just made the place feel warmer.
Happy New to Everyone...May the year 2014 be one of the best, rich with blessings and love.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas lights of Sremska Mitrovica

The Christmas Season has finally arrived in our little town of Sremska Mitrovica.  I guess it is close enough to January 7th for people to start getting in the Christmas spirit.  We are surprised at how many decorations have been put up and we have enjoyed the beauty.
Looking back down through Center
Light hanging over main street
Lights in the park...our own mini Temple Square.

                                            Other Beautiful lights of Sremska Mitrovica

We had transfers this week and we are loosing our sweet Sister Christensen.  We will miss her, but she is just moving to Novi Sad which is still in our district.  She has been a ball of energy and she has a beautiful singing voice.

Sister Christensen (dark hair)  and Sister Palmer
We are getting a Sister from Germany which is interesting because Sister Christensen will also have have a Sister companion from Germany.  We only have four sisters in all of Serbia and two of them will be from Germany. Change is good, right? We love these girls and are so proud of the good work they have accomplished as companions.

We are planning for our branch Christmas party which is Dec. 27th---after our Christmas and before theirs.  Many Orthodox people have a month fast before their Christmas where they don't eat meat products...but we have found out that none of our branch observe this belief so it won't affect our Christmas party food.  It sounds as if we will have a musical talent show followed by the Birth of Christ video from the church.  One of our missionaries recently put Serbian sub-titles on the video for us.  We, Alan, I, and our two sisters have decided to go Christmas caroling to each member on Christmas Eve and give a plate of treats.  It sounds like a lot but will only be about 10 places.  We are also having a Seminary Christmas Dinner at our apartment for the seminary students.  When we started seminary we had 3 girls...we now have 6-7 who attend the class.  So just as at home, this is a very busy time.  And as I said in past blogs, right after Christmas we will travel with the youth to Slovenia for a youth conference and News Years dance.  

As we have told you in the past, "Only In Serbia" there are many stray dogs that must fend for themselves kind'a like 'Lady and the Tramp'...well we found one of those dogs hiding in our back closet and decided to draft it into duty. Rover is now our offical 'under door air keeper out' guard dog. Great dog, doesn't eat much and never barks.  We're becoming very attached.
Rover to the rescue!

With Christmas quickly approaching, we wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year..(Srecan Bozic i Novu Godinu).  I have always loved Pres. Monson's statement when he said, "At this Christmas Season, it is time to  love the Lord our God with all our heart--and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much, he who gives time gives more, but he who gives of himself gives all."  And may God's spirit guide you in the year ahead.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving gift

Just as if the Lord gave us a special Thanksgiving gift, our Sunday fast and testimony meeting was wonderful.  Usually Alan and I have to get up to help fill the time, but Sunday one member after another stood to share their testimony.  Even though I can't understand the language, the spirit was very strong. I have realized that not being able to speak the language is like loosing one of our senses, like vision, and another sense becomes stronger.  And that, I feel, is what has happened; by not being able to speak the language the ability to feel the spirit has increased.  Maybe I just have learned how to listen better without the distraction of language. Anyway the meeting was so full of the spirit that even some of our investigators cried.  We had 23 people there (anything over 20 is great) and 4 of them were investigators

Monday morning Alan had to get up at 2 am to take our two newest members, Dragon and Nemanja, to the town of NIS.  It is three hours from here.  (They needed to be first in line to ensure that they would be served and get what they needed) They are refugees from Kosovo and records for refugees are kept in NIS.  We are trying to get them ID cards; first so Dragon can get financial help and second so Nemanja can leave the country at the end of Dec. to go to a youth New Years Eve dance in Slovenia.  (our youth would grumble if they had to travel that far to have a dance with other LDS youth)

Well, the Christmas music (app from internet) is playing 24/7 and our tree is decorated.  Not really a tree but a rather large house plant who doesn't understand what has happened to it.  But at night (and even in the day) looks quite pretty.
Sorta Christmas Tree like...

Daniel loaned me this sweet nativity to bring on our mission and
it's a good thing because we don't see nativities in the stores.

Desperate people do desperate things.
Christmas house plant all aglow!
And now for our last item our 'Only in Serbia' moment.  We took this picture Saturday... Cabbages are as plentiful this time of year as watermelons were in the summer.  They are a huge part of their diets.  We saw them planting cabbages in late Sept and early Oct.  There is a dish here that is called Sarva that is stuffed cabbage and everyone loves it.

And you know what cabbage does to some people, so you can imagine  what it smells like around here sometimes..enough said!


Well, we survived Thanksgiving.  It actually was fun to see our district missionaries relaxed and enjoying each others company.  We wish they had been allowed to stay longer but the mission president had only allowed them 5 hours to celebrate.  Some of them had to travel one hour each way by bus or car to get here so they really only had 3 hours.  As I said in a previous blog, we had a fairly traditional dinner and I even baked rolls that turned out better than expected.  (I will type another attachment to this blog...because as you know, me and this blog sometimes fight with each other)  continued....
The missionary table plus Aleksander.

Alan sitting with the couple from Spain.

Our two great Sisters...they are the best!

Our district leader and a young return missionary who is from Spain
who lives in Novi Sad.

This Sister goes home at next transfer...Dec. 17th

Aleksander loved Christmas Ribbon jello Salad and ate
about 5 way to make the cook
feel good :o)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

SNOW, snow, SNOW!

Winter has finally arrived...we had snow last night and it feels somewhat like November now, maybe not Thanksgiving, but November.  There is a belief here that when the crows gather it is going to snow.  And sure enough the crows were gathering.
About 4 inches
Snow is not the only thing that is white, this week we also had another baptism.  What a blessing.  We thought because Dragon is such a large man (previous police commander) and bad knees that it might take two people to baptize him but his recently baptized son did it all by himself (and on the first try).
Dragon and his son will always remember that moment that they shared.
Dragon and his son, Nemanja
We hope within the next few months we can convert Slogenja, wife and mother, to the church.  We told her that she only has 7 months because we want to be here when she is baptized.  I so wish I could speak the language because she and I would so enjoy talking with each other.
Slogenja and sweet Sisters.
We are preparing for Thanksgiving tomorrow and our family this year will be the missionaries from NoviSad (one set Elders and one set of Sisters) and a young couple that live in NoviSad that are from Spain as well as our Sisters.  Ten of us in all.  We have a small turkey and chicken breasts but once you carve them and you think 'Turkey' in your may all taste like turkey.  As for cranberry I said I found a recipe to make cranberry sauce from craisins.  It said once you make this, you will never go back.  So I made it and it amazingly tastes like craisins in a craisin sauce.  If only we could go back..but no real cranberry sauce is to be had.  Our oven is very small so we may be baking rolls at the church.  But we have to remember this truly is a Thanksgiving we will remember forever.  

Of course there are no Thanksgiving decorations in Serbia, so I scrambled and made our very own from an overgrown squash that we used as a pumpkin.  Only in Serbia do turkeys look like this:
Gobble, Gobble, Gobble--I thought I would be safe in Serbia!
Happy Thanksgiving and love to everyone...After spending time in a country that struggles it is easy to see how blessed we truly are.  Count your blessing that you live in America, have the gospel in your life, and can have an eternal family.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bah Humbug!

So you are all getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas, right?  No such luck here...there are no holidays here until January.  I never thought that I would miss seeing Christmas decorations this early, but I do.  I told a friend that I realize as a society our lives really revolve around the holidays.  We have them scattered through out the year and it gives us something to look forward to and something to gather together as families and even wards.  Serbia is the only country in our North Adriatic mission that doesn't celebrate Christmas in December but rather on Jan. 7th.  They do have a St. Nicholas day Dec. 19th where the children receive candy and treats.  Everyone says that their Christmas on Jan 7th is basically a food day but some members have told us that they give family gifts also on that date.  They don't have Christmas trees but rather they bring in an Oak branch to burn and have a yule log.  Maybe they are the same thing...I will report after Jan. 7th.  As for Thanksgiving...there is none.  We will have our own day of Thanksgiving with our District missionaries which will include the young missionaries from Novi Sad (two Elders & two Sisters) plus our own Sisters. We have been told you can order a Turkey but it is super expensive so I think we will cook two portly chickens.  And as for cranberry sauce, I found a recipe for making it from crasins. I'll let you know if it works.  No pumpkin (so no pumpkin pie), no yams, etc. etc.  But what's life without a few adventures and as it turns out, in this country there is an adventure every day.

I have grumbled enough...because this is really a very good week.  We have submitted another missionary's papers and will await his call.

Radoslav is our branch pres. son and turns 26 this month so
we have had to hustle  to get his papers in before the deadline.
Also this week we are having a baptism on Saturday.  Nemanja the young man who just got baptized, it is his father, Dragon, being baptized.  He had to quite smoking which was not easy and is now ready and eager to be baptized.  They are a good family.  Dragon was a police commander in Kosovo during the war, but became a refugee when the new government took over.  They had to leave the country and moved to Serbia. He now can not find work.  Nemanja was bullied at school for reading his BOM. What the boys didn't know when they started to pick on him was that Nemanja has a black belt and is quite renown for his fighting skills. They kept picking at him and as he said, he took care of business. He is our Serbian Moroni.  I will give more information and pictures of Dragon's baptism in the next blog.

Since I mentioned that Alan and I are learning the language, I thought you might like to see our badges. As I have said before..they have two alphabets here, Latin and also Cyrillic (name tag example), which is the most respected and in their minds purest of the two.  Alan understands the Cyrillic much better than me because he has to work in the church records (MLS) in this language. (Can you imagine)
Sister Seelos' badge--Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of Latter Days
  The other day I wished so badly that my eyes had a built in camera.  We were walking the half block from the church to our apt. when down the road here comes a tractor with a big cage attached to the back and in the cage was a big fat pig sow.  Just out for a ride or going to the market, we'll never know.

I have included a few other pictures that show the culture of Serbia.
Several houses in town look like this one...  Often they fix them up and
replaster them and move in.  This is a really old house and looks
too far gone to survive.

Corn is a big farm product here and we see many corn cribs full of ears
of corn like this one.  That's a lot of ears of corn. (kind'a like jelly beans
in a jar--how many are there)

There is a lot of water in Serbia and this is just some of the quiet
beauty that we see here and there when we take time to look.
Not the prettiest picture, but just to prove Alan has a knack for finding
narrow, obscure, bumpy roads.  He found this trail (aka road) going up
over the highest mountain in this part of Serbia, the Fruska Gora.
P.S.  We made it...
Our only in Serbia moment is a duck, yes a duck!
In Serbia drivers are very impatient..if you don't leap as soon as the
light changes to green, they honk.  Or if you are even going too
slow, they honk.  BUT if a little duck is walking down the
road and backs up traffic, everyone will sit patiently
while she makes her way.  Hard to explain, I guess they like
animals better than people.
Have a good week everyone...and remember if you have the gospel in your life, you are truly blessed and have so much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Variety Week

This has certainly been a week of variety.  As I stated last blog, last Sunday we had District Conference.  I found out after I wrote the blog exactly what a small church this truly is.  After conference, one of our Sisters from Alpine was approached by a man who said, "I didn't know you were in this mission" and she replied, "Do I know you?"... He said, "I am from Alpine Utah and you played basketball with my daughter... my brother and I are over here Boar hunting and wanted to attend a church".  You just never know! (Some of the speakers at the Conference were boring..just a joke :o)

I don't remember if I mentioned, but Alan and I are taking Serbian lessons two times a week...I'm not sure why cause it's not a language we will use daily when we get home.  But a lady judge we know who had come to our English class for a while is out of work and struggling and we thought it would be a great opportunity to learn at least some minor phrases.  She speaks English very well and it has been helpful.  We are slowing gathering short sentences, much like Molly, our one year old granddaughter.  :o}

Last week we also traveled to Tuzla, Bosnia to visit and kind'a orient a new Senior couple.  Tuzla has not been open to missionaries for very long and there are about 8 members and are considered a "group" not a "branch".  For now, their church is one room in a store front.  Bosnia is a more mountainous country while Serbia is more like Nebraska.  It did our heart good to travel in the mountains...just like home.  It is truly a very pretty country and it is dotted with Mosques because they are mainly Muslim.
This is one of the many mosques..they all have the
 minaret from which the Muezzin calls the members
to prayer five times a day.

This is an Orthodox monastery just over the boarder from Serbia in Bosnia.
The domes are gold like our angle Moroni.   

A side view...there are stately dorms built behind to house Monks or Nuns
or Priests...we don't know.
This type of haystacks are all over Bosnia.  They all have a pole up
the middle.

We rushed home on Thursday from Tuzla because a Senior couple was coming to help with a church audit.  They are from Bountiful and leave for home this Tues.  They were also making a "goodbye" trip.  That will be us one day and some days we can't wait and other days it makes us very sad.  They stayed with us overnight and that always creates a little pressure for me, but it was good to have a last visit.  Watch for the Ivins return missionary's post in the Clipper.

Saturday was a great day... We baptized our 17 year old Nemanja.  The Lord had prepared him for the missionaries.  He had become friends with Aleksander (our lost sheep boy) and ask him to baptize him. So it was a wonderful day for both of them.   It was Aleksander's first time and it took him three times to get the words right so Nemanja is sufficiently baptized. In the winter, we have to go to Belgrade to baptize because our rubber font can only be used outside.  We had 11 people who attended from Sremska that we had to send on the bus.  Seven (+ 3 children) were investigators with our missionaries.  Well when they went to catch the last bus, there was no bus and we are already on our way home with Nemanja's parents.  Luckily, one of our investigators called a friend and arranged for a van to come and pick everyone up...of course for a good price, but we did get them all home finally.  Always an adventure. 
Nemanja on the right and Aleksander on the left...some old
Senior Missionary in the middle.

Our two proud Sister Missionaries 
Then we had Sunday and it too was an interesting day...our branch Pres. has a broken car and he didn't attend church.  In the middle of church we got a call that he had been hit in his town of Sasinci while on his bike by a drunk driver.  Everyone was so upset, so we put church on hold and several went to the hospital.  He is a stubborn man and checked himself out of the hospital and went home....but he is fine.  Thank goodness.  His Niece said.."Well if he had been in church, it wouldn't have happened".  Only in Serbia sympathy moment.
Our only in Serbia Moment:  
Everywhere you look people are gathering wood
for the winter.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween in Serbian (whether they want it or not)

It has been an extremely busy week here in Sremska Mitrovica...Besides the normal week of language lessons and various teaching lessons, the rest of the school kits were delivered, we had Zone Conference, a district Priesthood meeting, and District Conference today.  We had Elder Herbertson of the 70s here from England.

But I will start with our Halloween party.  They, as I have mentioned, do not have Halloween over here and many were not even familiar with it.  So our Sisters decided it was time to share with our English classes, our investigators, and our branch the true spirit of Halloween.  We made masks, bobbed for apples, hunted through whip cream for gum balls, and played a game with dice doubles and unwrapping candy (to hard to explain that game).  Our investigators and our English class came but none of our branch...sometimes we think they are too sophisticated or they think it is too American.  But even without the Branch, we had about 15 people there and we all had a great time. investigator who will be baptized Nov. 9th
He is the best young man...The Spirit had prepared him for
the Gospel.

Mira is such a good heart...she is an English student but has
come to church a couple of times.

Two of our other English interest in 
the church....yet.

Ivan (E-von) is a 27 year old investigator and such a
great young man.  He is becoming very special to us.

Whip Cream pie with gum balls

Aftermath of the whip cream...after they found the gum
they had to blow a bubble...Nemanja won

I forgot to mention that we also gave out two wheelchairs
this week

This poor man had bone cancer...he was so
appreciative ...  he was using crutches
and his poor hands looked terrible.

The only in Serbia moment this week was when three missionary Sisters dressed alike for Zone Conference without even consulting each other...we got a lot of flak from the other missionaries...We just said that only the important ones must have got the memo.
This Roma man begs on the street corner by asking to wash
your windshield.  He can not speak (just makes noises), but he
likes us and we like him.
District Conference was great...It was for all of Serbia branches and we had over 100 people there.  That doesn't sound great for how long the church has been established here but attendance is growing.  No one has ever been able to guess why the church has not grown here as quickly as in other parts of the world.  As I have said before...Satan really has a foot hold here and is hanging on tight.