Monday, April 29, 2013

True sign of spring

In April the true sign of spring is when they start cutting and hauling wood. One of the main sources of heat here in Serbia is wood stoves and has been for hundreds of years. You will see chimneys that are falling down but you will see smoke coming out of it. Well as it turns out this time of year is when everyone stocks up on wood. Our first indication of this when we first started seeing these little machines running around town with two wheels in front and one in back  with a man sitting on the seat in back and a couple of men sitting in a platform in front. When I asked someone what that was they replied that they were the portable band saws. They are about the size of a small fork lift and are powered by a big belt like the old threshing machines.

We then had to go out to the little village of Sasinci. It is out about 5 miles and the country is real flat and the road was always marked by the long line of trees lining the road. Well on this trip most of the trees were gone. The next day the last of them were gone, Probably about 40 trees that were at least 25 years old were gone in a day.  They were all cut into lengths of about 9 feet and being loaded onto trucks to be hauled away. Then over the coarse of the next week you would see tractors and trucks and horses with wagons hauling this type of wood that had been split and dumping it on the side of the road in front of houses. It soon became obvious that there had to be more than the trees that we saw cut down to produce all of this wood. We figured that this was firewood but couldn't understand how the little old people could take these Hugh piles of logs and stack them in their yard. And I mean little old people. Elderly people all bent over would be out looking at these piles and I felt sorry for them because it takes a healthy man to move them. Just about time I felt one should go and volunteer to help them move it, up shows up one of these Portable bans saws.

It takes three men to run them. One picks up the split logs and places it on the deck of the band saw. The second man proceeds to cut it into about foot long pieces which the third man throws out into a new pile. They can cut a large split log faster than I could cut a 2 x 4 through with my chop saw. They start about 6:00 am and go until about 8:00 pm. As soon as they get a pile all cut two men will get on the front of the band saw and the last one on the back and put it in gear and head down the road. It doesn't matter if  the street is a little back street or if it is the main highway; it and the horse drawn wagons are just part of the traffic.

Then several members of the family will all bring their wheel barrels and haul the wood to the back courtyard and stack it for winter , Then often the next morning there is another huge pile of split logs in front of the same yard and the whole process starts all over again. It seems that April is the best time to harvest this wood as the sap has not come into the wood as yet so it is not as heavy and will dry easier. It is before the leaves are all out and generally the really cold weather is over until next year. But for about three weeks you will see every kind of truck, trailer or wagon hauling wood and probably fifteen to twenty of these band saws running around town.

This is taken from our balcony--This was the first
of two loads of wood.

See growing pile of cut up logs
This is the portable band saw

Monday, April 22, 2013

And time marches on!

At the end of this week we will have been on our mission for 3 months.  I told a friend that somehow it seems longer.  Senior missionaries keep saying that all of a sudden it speeds up, but we haven't experienced that yet.  However, it has been interesting to me to realize how quickly you can adjust to a new place to live; new customs; new foods; new city; new church; and function when you don't know what is being said most of the time.  We have found  that as we adjust it starts to feel like the norm.  I guess in our mind, we've had to adjust or we couldn't bare to be away from family and friends.

Today is P-day...Although it's a day off, it's really not a day off.  After Alan and I went grocery shopping early this morning, he went over to the church to meet the building maintance coordinator to arrange to have some plumbing done to fill the baptismal pool for the baptisms this Sat.  He also met with the Branch Pres. to go over finances.  By 1:30 I had made brownies for an Elders birthday party tonight and a big batch of cookies to take on our visits; cleaned the apartment; done three batches of washing; and conversered with the mission nurse about a health condition one of our elders is having.  Typical P-day!

We had to go back to the Croation boarder again on Tues. because our passport stamps were not stamped in dark enough ink.  They get very ticky tacky here.  So when we returned, we again went into the police station and again applied for our Visas.  He finally excepted our applications and we should have our Serbian Visas in two weeks.  However, if we were moved to another country, we would have to start the process over again.  It's not uncommon for missionaries in this mission to have to apply when ever they move from one country to another.

Because we are having two baptisms this Sat. (yeah), we have been trying to find a place to baptize.
The Sava river is too high and scary plus cold right now; there are not hotels with swimming pools; no public pool; but we found a man who owns a hotsprings but he wants $6.00 per person which includes those attending, even though they won't be getting in the water.  That could add up to over $100.00 dollars (almost half of the years budget).  So we found out that Novi Sad has a plastic pool, sort of a swimming pool that is deep but not wide.  Since we had District meeting in Novi Sad, we stuffed the pool and ladder in the car and brought it back.  Nothing seems easy here.  I will let you know about the baptisms next blog posting.

Last week we also met with a man and wife who are inactive members.  He's a very angry, paranoid man who kept bringing up concerns about the church.  As we solved each concern, he would bring up another problem, as he called it.  The last being that we serve water and not wine for the sacrament.  We finally ask if he wanted to be a member of the church or have his name removed from the records.  "Remove his name" he said, but we don't think that his wife wants her name removed but he is very verbally abusive and I am sure that she will eventually ask to have her name removed as well.

It is finally turning to spring here and the surrounding area is beautiful because of all the farm land that has been planted or being planted.  When we travel, it looks like a patch work quilt.  We love looking out our back window into the yards below and watching the lady on her balcony behind trim her many plants.  I don't think she realizes that we can also see right into her house and all her states of we are careful when we look, mostly just in the day time.  Here is a picture of the back yards behind us and the other pictures are these apartments from the front side of their street where they enter.
The front of the back yards shown below.

This is how the buildings look behind.  You can see the high
walls between property and the remaining marks of
older buildings that were once there. 

The small space between house
and tree offer sight of
the apt. balcony across the
way plus inside the house.
In the winter it was very open.  There
is a grass yard below.

This is the other backyard we can
see.  Several people live back
here.  It is a coming and going place.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Giving is better than receiving

Alan's birthday was Sat. April 13th and it's difficult to have a birthday in another country but we had a great day.  Daniel arranged to have many good friends hold a Happy Birthday sign and then sent the pictures showing the greetings.  It touched Alan so much to see good friends share in his birthday.  He received many Emails and facebook greetings as well and it makes you realize that good friends and family are the greatest gifts of all.

We went over and worked in the church cleaning for a while.  Then later in the day we took a wheelchair up to a man in the nearby village of Sesinci.  This family is very poor, I mean poorer than you can ever imagine.  They get about $50.00 a month on which to live.  Even here, that is nothing.  The roof of their home on one side has caved in and they had to just shut the door and move out of that room.  The man has had one leg cut off and had a wheelchair that was very narrow.  He had to remove the arms and then his thighs sat on the wheels which didn't allow him to move the wheels to roll around.  When we gave him the wheelchair, he was like a little boy with a new toy and so excited.  It makes us wish that the church could repair their house, but the humanitarian funds only pay for projects that benefit a group.  We may try to figure out a way to do something as a district to help fix the roof.
New wheelchair..the man by Alan is our branch President.
He's a teacher and a very good man

My crazy husband got in the man's old chair and had a race with him.
It was comical because the sidewalk was half mud

The caved in roof.

This is a village where you often see carts being pulled by a horse as a means of transportation.  Even in Sremska in the middle of cars and bikes there will be a cart and horse.  Usually it is the very poor or the Roma (gypsy) people who use carts.  To help ends meet, the Pres. wife works in a small Sesinci grocery store six days a week under very difficult management.  But because the unemployment rate is so high, she has to just take what ever the bosses hand out because if she complains, she would lose her job because the bosses know there are many others waiting to take her place.  Sesinci is the watermelon capital of Eastern Europe, so we look forward to summer.  It, as well as Sremska, are very old towns.

After the wheelchair presentation another man wanted us to come to his home for cake and it is disrespectful is you refuse, so we sat on his porch and ate cake.  His wife is mentally ill.  They say that she has three college degrees and was a beautiful woman but during the war they shot captives just over her backyard fence and her husband said that the trauma has left her not the same woman. (We just can't imagine) The husband was a physics professor, but the way they live is very substandard.  After their house we had to stop by the president's home and visit and have juice.  Remember, don't be disrespectful. Then that night we were invited by another family for dinner.  They all have soup here before every meal, the meal, and then an offering of two desserts.  Remember, don't be disrespectful!  So, we are not only growing spiritually, but we are also growing physically...all in an effort to be respectful.

So, all in all, Alan had a very fulfilling ;o) birthday.  Of course the best part was the giving of the wheelchair and seeing the happiness of the husband and wife.  It's truly these type of moments  that make this journey so worthwhile.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bloom where you are planted

You can take the yard away from the man, but you can't take the love of yard work away from him.  Last Friday we went to a town called Sebac (Sh-vach) and found a corner selling plans and just like a magnet we were drawn there.  Yes, it is a sickness!  We thought, where will we plant them, we don't know, but we will find a way.   So after becoming plant owners, we went to a flower place in Sremska, but they didn't have pots, so we did finally go to a store that has just plastic items and bought a pot.  But shops here are very specialized and we had to go to a seed and fertilizer store to get planting soil.  We lugged everything up stairs (Alan carried most of it) and today we planted out sweet little pot. Oh, but I didn't tell you the rest...he kept all the pansy pots from the church planting and they are in a back bedroom window with marigold seeds planted.  Sickness :o]  I expect our back balcony will soon be covered in pots of tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, etc. etc.   Like I said in the eariler blog...the balcony becomes what ever you need it to be.  Right now the back balcony will be the garden and the front balcony the patio. (Thank goodness that we have a dryer or what would we do.)   And so we help it bloom where we are planted, even if it is a Serbian balcony.  Part of the journey!
Now doesn't he look happy?

He's having a little chat with the salesmen.  I think that I was barely out
of the car and he was already there chatting & buying. :o)

Every day life in Sremska Mitrovica

I thought it would be interesting for you to see how the majority of people live here in Serbia.  The number of apartment buildings is unbelievable.  There is no wasted space...there may be stores on the bottom but you can be sure that above the stores will be apartments.  Many of the apartments have a balcony and this balcony serves as their patio, back yard, garden, and clothes line.
Add caption

There are stores around the bottom of this building
 This is a huge complex of apartment buildings
We look into the backyards of these buildings..Apartments above.

Notice the wash hanging...a very common site

This is our apartment...I'm standing on our balcony
Really it is the fourth floor.
That is our car parked in front.

There are also old old houses and some very nice new homes.  Just a couple pictures showing nicer homes.
Roads here are narrow and houses are close together.  How they gate and fence their area seems to be important to them.  We all have areas that mean status to us, right!  And life goes on in our Serbian journey.


Friday, April 5, 2013


Alan told of our inactive member who came to church because we had come to his house looking for "the lost sheep".  Well, we were to have a first meeting with his mother who never joined the church and she was coming to the church because her ex-husband (who she lives across the yard from) hates Americans.  The door opens and in walks Alexander but he did not have his mother with him.  He said that he thought we were having an English class this night.  He said that his mother was ill and wouldn't be coming.  So we said why don't you stay for an English lesson and we will talk about what we were going to share with your mother.  He agreed.  Now remember he hasn't been in the church since he was 10 years old.  We had prepared to teach her about the plan of salvation and so we taught him and he was amazed.  The elders had discussed using a verse in the BOM but one of the elders said no I have a feeling that we should refer to the verse in I Corinthians 15:40-41 .  So after teaching about the degrees of glory...Alexander said, "I've read the Bible and I have never read anything about this".  And the Elders had him refer to I Corinthians and he was amazed.  The Lord really has a hand in our lives and if we listen He gives us the direction we need, no matter how suttle.  There is a lot Alexander has to learn, it is like he is a new investigator, but we will keep teaching and praying that the seeds of a testimony are planted before he has to go back to Montenegro.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Sunday

I get to tell a Seelos story. My wife thinks I tell to much detail but it is the only way that I can tell a story.  When we first got to Sremska Mitrovicia the first thing we heard from the members is that there are a lot of inactive members here that were never really converted but just joined the church so they could survive the war with a little help from the church. Then the next thing is that there is one family that does not want to be associated with the church any longer and will often stop the branch President and say please take our names off the rolls. One of our main responsibilities is to contact all of the inactive and try to get them to come back to church. Dee already posted our experience when we visited with an inactive in Ruma and ended up in the Old Folks Home. (I'm surprised they didn't think we were checking in and keep us)

Last week we decided that it was time that we took the bull by the horns and go to see this inactive family. We made an appointment with the missionaries and went to their address. Here in Serbia just because you have an address it does not mean that you will find the right people. The homes will usually come right out to the street and there will be a gate usually large enough to drive a small car through and then the next house. We will send pictures because often the gates are very individualized. Once you enter the gate you go into a small,  or sometimes a large courtyard. Then around the courtyard there may be one home or several homes  and often it is hard to tell which are homes or are they just a shed or closet.

When we went to the address Dee (so as not to overwhelm them) stayed in the car and I and the Elders went to the gate and then into the courtyard  and knocked on the door. A woman came to the door and when she saw that we were missionaries she said no they were not interested and did not want to have anything to do with the church. I explained that we were trying to visit with all members of the branch and that they were listed on our records and we wanted to get to know them. She spoke for a long time and the Elders just listened and kept saying da, da (yes, yes). Finally I held up my hand and everyone stopped and I asked what she had been saying. The Elders tend to forget that I don't understand Serbian. They said that she was talking about how her husband has become more worldly and their children were going out drinking and she was worried that her family won't be able to be with her because they are so worldly.  Then I got a real shock. She is the Ex-wife of the man who wants his name off the records. Her husband and her six children were all baptized into the church but she never was.

About this time an older gentleman came out of the other house and started hollering and saying for us to leave that he did not want us there. Again I explained that we're there because their name was on our records and we wanted to meet all of them. He said he had a paper that said he was no longer a member of the church and he did not want us to bother them. He had also been drinking a little bit. All this took place with one Elder translating for me while the other Elder was talking to the lady. When we finally got the man settled down, we talked for a little while and I assumed that he was all alone in his house but I wanted to find out where his children were living so we could find them. According to my records there were six children in the family,with the youngest being 23 years old.All had asked to have their name removed except one daughter living in Croatia. I could not remember any of their names except for the youngest (I will call him) Alexander. I asked the Missionary if he would ask where Alexander was living. Before the missionary could translate my question the father said Da and went back to his home and got Alexander. Alexander spoke very good English and we visited for quite a while and he confirmed that his dad and five of the siblings asked that their names be removed. I told them I would follow up on the matter and would get back to them and we left.

When we got back to the car the Elders informed me the mother who had never been baptized wanted to be baptized and would be to church on Sunday. Sunday morning was Easter and we tried to have a special meeting. This is not easy when there are so few members because the same people are always speaking. The President and I had discussed having everyone choose their favorite song and saying why. We then planned on having fast meeting on the 14th of April after conference. I got a call late Saturday night from the Counselor in the Mission Presidency saying he and his wife would be in Sremska Mitrovica on the 14th and would be speaking. So we decided to combine the music program and Testimony meeting for our Easter Program. It was a very spiritual meeting. Also know that there is a very limited selection of songs that are translated into Serbian.

So I was standing at the Front door of the Chapel to greet people and watch for our little investigators  When all of a sudden this fellow steps in the door and it was Alexander. He said that he was very touched that we would come to find him. He said that it reminded him of the story "the Lord looking for the lost sheep" and he felt that he should come and find out for himself. He said that he did not necessarily agree with his father and he had not been to church since he was 10 years old.  About 15 minutes later his mother arrived and also our other investigators came.  We have changed their baptism date to the 20th of April as she has been in the hospital for a week. Easter Sunday is when the time change happens here and so almost at the last of our meeting meeting another investigator came in the door. We had four investigators and 1 inactive out to church and they stayed for the both meetings. As I said it was a very spiritual meeting and the branch is very excited. By the way Alexander attended our English class tonight so we feel very blessed and will see what is to come.  What a journey this is!