Surprised by Turkey

•November 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

When we planned our trip to Bosnia and discovered that our flights would be on Turkish Airlines, with layovers in Istanbul, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add another country to our lists, so we decided to extend our layover and spend a few days exploring Istanbul. We had both heard amazing things about the city, and wanted the chance to see it for ourselves.

Istanbul has not disappointed. We’ve loved wandering around the city and seeing all the sites. There is definitely some magic to this place: it’s incredibly beautiful, the history is amazing, and the monuments around the city are breathtaking. But, it’s our interactions with locals that have been the most surprising part of our time here.

We’ve been to plenty of places that have friendly people, but we’ve been blown away by the friendliness of the locals we’ve encountered here. And, not surprisingly, a lot of these great experiences with locals have been all about Hannah. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Buying bottled water at a small market, only to have the shopkeeper give Hannah a massive bag of chips for free, just for her.
  • Briefly stopping at an outdoor table to feed Hannah, only to have an older gentlemen insist that he buy us some tea so we can relax a bit.
  • Servers at almost every food establishment we have been to who have taken Hannah out of our arms, played with her, and offered her treats.

All of this in the span of just about 48 hours. We’re only spending 3 days total here, and feel like we’re only getting a taste of the city. We hope we’ll get to come back someday! It’s been a great way to end our time abroad, and we’re looking forward to landing back in the U.S. tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, here are some quick photo highlights of our time in Istanbul.

In front of the Hagia Sophia.

Right across from Hagia Sophia – The Blue Mosque.

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View of Istanbul from the Galata Tower, with Asia on the left, Europe on the right, and Hagia Sophia & The Blue Mosque in the distance.

One of Hannah’s many new friends.

Taking time out to play at a park near Taksim Square.

On Experiencing God’s Family

•October 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The view from our little Croatian apartment.

Today we packed our little family in our rental car and left the city of Banja Luka in Bosnia where we visiting our good friends and drove across the border to Osijek, Croatia. Osijek is home to one of the few seminaries in this part of the world and provides theological training for many Christian leaders around the Balkans. Since we’re here to check out different ministry opportunities, it only seemed natural to try to arrange a visit, especially since Matt is interested in teaching opportunities.

The only problem was – we didn’t know anyone in Osijek. So, arranging a visit would be…difficult.

So, before we came out here, Matt did some sleuthing on the internet and happened to connect with an American missionary named Greg who is serving at the seminary here. Greg and his wife Lidija graciously invited us to come for a visit to check things out, and here we are.

So tonight, we found ourselves in a strange city we have never visited, sitting down to dinner in the home of complete strangers. It was awesome. We ate fantastic Croatian cuisine, got to know one another, and then when it was time to leave we were sent home with a goody bag of all kinds of good stuff to keep us well-fed during our short stay here.

It was awesome. And it made us deeply grateful that we get to be a part of God’s big, global family. Seriously, we can show up to a stranger’s home in an unfamiliar city and be treated like family because, well, we are family: brothers and sisters in Christ. We love that during these adventures we see the scriptures come to life:

“‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields…'”  Mark 10:29-30

Why not stop for coffee?

•October 23, 2015 • 1 Comment

To say coffee is an important aspect of Bosnian culture would be to make a major understatement. There are cafes everywhere and most social interactions happen at a cafe over coffee. Grabbing coffee is a destination in itself. It’s an opportunity to slow down and enjoy time with friends. The experience of coffee in Bosnian is a perfect illustration of one of our favorite things about Bosnia: the slower pace of life.

A couple days ago, we were driving from Sarajevo to Banja Luka (about a 4 hour drive) and had to make a quick pit stop at a roadside gas station. And, given Bosnian cafe culture, of course every gas station along the highway has a cafe attached. Because, if you’re going to make a pit stop, why not stop for coffee? So, we did. It was a fun chance for us to embrace life in Bosnia in a small way (especially for Matt, who usually wants to get from point A to point B as fast as possible).

Here’s us enjoying our coffee:

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A Neighborhood Tour

•October 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

When Bekah and I decided to come to Bosnia for a month-long chunk of our sabbatical, we decided the best option for us would be to try to rent an apartment in the city. After looking for awhile, we decided on a place through AirBnb that we knew was pretty central and close to our friends. However, when we got to Sarajevo, we were shocked to find out just how central it actually was. We’re in the heart of the city right around the corner for Sarajevo’s main pedestrian walkway, called Ferhadija. We literally could not have asked for a better location. Here are a few pictures that will give you a sense of what our neighborhood is like:

Bekah’s clearly excited about where we’re living! This is right around the corner from our apartment on Ferhadija. This walkway is packed with people almost all the time. It’s a major pastime in Sarajevo to come downtown, walk along Ferhadija and grab coffee.

Another view of Ferhadija. This part of the city was built when Sarajevo was under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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A couple minutes farther down, the architecture abruptly changes as you enter the historic core of Sarajevo. This is called Baščaršija (buh-SHAR-shee-ya) and was built when the Ottoman Empire took control of Bosnia in the 15th century. Immediately it feels like you’ve gone from being in Central Europe to being in Turkey or the Middle East.

A few historic mosques dot the landscape of Baščaršija, and you can hear the call to prayer ring out several times a day.

One of our favorite parts of Bosnia is its cafe culture. There are countless cafes in our neighborhood where people spend hours sitting and drinking coffee. This is one of our favorite, at the edge of Baščaršija.

It’s a treat for this to be our home while we’re here. The neighborhood is steeped in so much history. We’re right around the corner from where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, sparking WWI and this part of the city has been known historically as the only place in Europe where one was able to find a Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Synagogue and Mosque within a couple blocks of each other.

Hopefully this gives you a sense of where we’re spending our time! It has already provided a rich setting for us to process our future and hear God’s voice. We’re excited to share more with you soon!

We Made It!

•October 8, 2015 • 1 Comment

We finally made it! After a lot of planning and anticipation, we’re settling into our new “home” for the next 5 weeks here in Sarajevo. Our trip went about as smoothly as we could have hoped, but traveling that distance with a 12-month old is no joke.

We’re all a little tired, but managed to get enough sleep to keep us functional. We’re focusing on getting settled these first couple days but were grateful to get out and have coffee with some of our friends here in town; we’re also excited to already have planned a few opportunities to serve EUS (InterVarsity’s sister movement here in BiH). More on that later.

For now, enjoy this adorable picture of Hannah sleeping in her little Turkish Airlines bassinet!

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Off to Bosnia!

•October 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Wow! It’s been a long time since we’ve blogged – but we’re excited to fire up the blog for our next adventure: our family trip to Bosnia! Thanks for following along with us on our adventure!

Out of Control

•July 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

One of the reasons I love and hate Bosnia is it forces me to come face to face with the uncomfortable and liberating fact that I am not in control. I am weak, limited, and am unable to accomplish much of anything on my own.

Of course as a good staff-worker I give lip-service to this truth when I’m in the US. But really, I usually feel comfortable and in control. I mostly know how to do my job, I feel good about my ministry skills, people tend to respond well to me and I’m accustomed to seeing decent “results.”

This is an illusion.

And in Bosnia, this illusion gets exposed. Here, I am smacked upside the head with my true limits and am forced to acknowledge my dependence on God.

In Bosnia, I’ve been forced to acknowledge the fragility of my body. Being constantly on the go and in a leadership role that has demands 24 hours a day and 7 days a week has worn me out. I’ve never been more consistently exhausted in my life and I am at the mercy of how well I sleep any given night.

When I feel like I have absolutely nothing to give, but there is still more to do, I have to depend on God for the energy and focus I need.

In Bosnia, I have learned how little ministry I can do and how much God must do. Students here are usually be much less receptive to the Gospel – and I can’t change their hearts, but God can. I don’t know what students will be more open when we go out to do contact work, but God does and we have to ask Him to lead us to them.

And when students who want to go to the camp that we put on–where we get to do Bible studies and have an incredible opportunity for ministry—have exams that they can’t miss; we have to pray for God to move exams, because we can’t.

It’s uncomfortable to be here, even painful sometimes for these reasons. But it is so good. And as we have only a week left, I pray that these lessons sink deeply into my heart, and into the hearts of our entire team. We need to remember them and cling to them when we go back home.