Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Baptism and a quick return

We had a very special day on March 13th as Slaganja got baptized.  We decided to stay here in Sremska and do the baptism in the church.  Now this is no easy task...Alan and Nemanja had to move the foyer furniture into the chapel and then set up the deep vinyl swimming pool that we used last summer in the foyer.  He then had to run a hose from the upstairs out the window and back in the foyer window to the font to fill it.  He fills it 3/4 full with warm water the day before and them fills it the rest of the day on the baptishmal day with hot water.  That makes the water a little better than room temp.  Then after the baptism, everything must be done in reverse.  But, of course, everything doesn't go that smooth and the pool collapsed when it got 3/4 empty and distributed the rest of the water through out the foyer.  That foyer is now well mopped! 

Slaganja was always reluctant to get baptized, but the Lord works in mysterious ways (as we know) and she had a dream.  (Shortened version) She dreamt that she met Duska (R.S. Pres.) on the street who told her to come with her because she needed help and they had to hurry to the church.  Slaganja ask why and Duska said, "Because Christ is there".  Slaganja did not believe her and ask if He had been there before and Duska said, "Oh yes, several times".  They hurried to the church and she did see Christ.  After that dream she said she knew that what the missionaries had been teaching her was true and and she needed to be baptized.  She was baptized by her son Nemanja and a happier boy you could not find.

Sister Palmer, Nemanja, Slaganja, and Sister Zander
The Ibraimovic family are now all members and our trusty baptismal font

That was our wonderful news for this week....and on the other side our newest missionary, Radoslav, who had been in England for a month came home due to anxiety.  But, this is not uncommon because our Sister missionary, Sister Zander, went home with depression.  Missions can be difficult with hard work.  It seems even more hard for members who maybe grow up in the church where it is less structured.  We don't know the reason always but we pray for these young people who have returned that they will find purpose in their lives and stay active.

Living within the structure of the church is also what causes a lot of converts over here to go inactive.  Although, church structure over here is less structured (1-2 hour church, no weekly YM/YW, sometimes no home teaching--you get the idea) it is so much more than they are used to.  Both the Orthodox and Catholic church members attend basically on Easter and Christmas and maybe on their Saint Day. Not much obligation there.  So just having members remain faithful, pay tithing, and attend church is a big thing over here.  Then when they go on a mission and it is much more regimented it can be overwhelming. 

We did have transfers and now have a new missionary, Sister Matthews from Heber City.  She is wonderful and has been in the mission for over a year.  When we first got here she was in Novi Sad.  She and Sister Palmer are Sister Trainers which is like the counter part to Zone Leaders.  But this also means that they will taking our car often to visit other sisters and has caused a problem.  We have the only stick shift car in the mission and neither of them drive stick shift.  So now next week we will travel to Croatia and pick up a different car.  We worry with it having Croatian license plates that we will get stopped more and may receive more tickets.  The Serbs and the Croatians tolerate each other but still don't like each other.

We still teach English class two times each week and have made some wonderful friends and these friends sometimes come to church and many of them came for Slaganja's baptism.  It seems once we get them through the church doors and they start to feel comfortable it becomes less threatening.  The missionaries are teaching one man who just started to come to English class and we have a baptismal date for him in April.  Our English class also comes to our Friday night activities.  So English class is a great finding tool.
Svetlana and Mirco...Lupco is the man to right and we are teaching him the gospel.

Egor and Aleksander-- Egor just got this haircut and he is Nemanja's friend
Our "Only in Serbia" moment:  We watch several new stores and businesses start up and then within one month or six weeks we watch as they pack up and close.  We are sure that people are hoping to somehow make a better living and it doesn't often work out.  
This was a store across the street selling material.  It was open for one month and
yesterday the horse and wagon showed up, hauled the material away, and then
closed the store.  These horse and wagons are used by many and seen often.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sad and Happy Times

Last time I wrote, we were so excited because Aleksander had been called on a mini mission.  How quickly things can change.  He is now not going on a mission and has asked to have his membership removed from church records. There are a combination of many things that probably contributed to this decision, one of them being a friend who didn't want to see Aleksander leave and he spread a few lies plus Aleksander, did not have much confidence in himself and the reality of it may have scared him. Testimonies, especially new testimonies, over here are very fragile and Serbian trust (both on his part and the members part) is not a common attribute. He is a great young man and we hope someday he comes back. 

Our good news is that Slagana is getting baptized Thursday, March 13th.  She is a great woman and will be a super addition to this branch.  President Rowe is on a very tight schedule, especially as he is trying to accomplish so much before he leaves July 1...but Slagana made him promise to come to her baptism and he is driving several hours to Serbia and told her that he wouldn't miss it.
Slagana & Dragon with Pres. and Sister Rowe
Alan and I were discouraged for a while, but we remembered our motto to "Go Forward in Faith" and that is what we are doing.  Our little branch has one more man scheduled for baptism in April....and our sweet Sisters work hard to find those who will listen.  This is not always I mentioned earlier, there is not a lot of trust here and a great reluctance to change.  They want something better in their lives but really don't believe that there is anything better out there.  But slowly the 'mission' membership is growing.  The five countries had 422 members out to church last Sunday and the goal (before the Pres. leaves) is to have 500 (inactive or new members) who attend church regularly.  It is perplexing to try and understand why other countries, such as Russia, Africa, and Philippines, have such an influx of people joining the church and here in the Balkans, it is such a struggle.  We hope their time is coming soon.

Last Friday we had a leadership training meeting with the other senior couples in our District.  We went to Belgrade and after our meeting we walked (2 miles each way, yes I am proud) to the Belgrade fortress.  Belgrade is an extremely busy city with many people going here and there.   Many people are on the streets walking because parking is awful and people take buses or walk.  It is probably much like the city of New York.
Sister and Elder Goodsell, Elder Seelos, Elder and Sister Preston (from Centerville)

This Fortress is huge and these few pictures do not do it overlooks where the
Danube and the Sava rivers come together.  The best placement for protection.

This part of the park surrounding the Fortress is where Elder Nelson stood when he
dedicated Serbia to the preaching of the gospel.

Another part of the Fortress...notice the line of tanks and they are from many countries.

It would take a little effort to load this cannon.

The lookout tower on the corner of the Fortress and as you look past
you can see where the two rivers come together.

History reports that this Belgrade Fortress has been taken over and occupied by more countries than any other place on earth.  Anyway, that is what they tell us.  

This is a government building coming back from the Fortress...the government buildings are
usually the most beautiful and the best taken care of.
Our only in Serbia moment is a sweet one...This rather elderly man who happens to be a missionary was caught sleeping on the job, which is something that he very seldom gets to do.
Doesn't he look weary...and yes, that is the true color of the walls in that room.
We feel so blessed to be here in Serbia and although it can be difficult at times, it can also be exciting and wonderful at times.  We have such a short time left and feel such an urgency to get more work done.  We can't wait to see our family but can't imagine leaving our Serbian family behind.