Monday, July 14, 2014

The. 10th. Big. Volunteer. Week.

Hello everyone!

Here's what's been going on in Brussels the last couple weeks.

3 words: Big Volunteer Week.

The Serve the City Brussels team has been working for months to organize the 10th BVW.  This Week is actually what really kicked STC off in the beginning. So not only was this a time of organizing and serving, but also remembering and celebrating together.

I actually remember my uncle talking to me 10 years ago saying, "You should come out here to get involved with this thing called Serve the City.  They do a lot of stuff with basketball for the week and other projects all over the city."  How crazy to be a part of celebrating 10 years later.

Did you know there was a 6 episode TV show made of STC? Here is the intro from years ago!

This was the biggest the Week has ever been!  With around 27 projects around the city and almost 200 volunteers daily, we were truly able to be a part of our STC motto: "Many people doing small things together can make a big difference!"

Full room of volunteers before being sent out

As we were sent around the city, Donald and I led 2 of the projects.

STC focuses on relationally serving through ways of art, sports, practical projects, beauty, friendships, and meals.  Donald led a team in painting at Lilote.  Lilote gives an opportunity for women in great need to get back on their feet by offering shelter, assistance, and council. STC wanted to give Lilote a fresh coat of paint as a blessing for those blessing others.

I brought a team to a home for asylum seekers called Fedasil.

We have so many stories from this week, but on this blog, I'll share a few from Fedasil.

Fedasil is a place that houses people from around the world who are seeking asylum in Belgium.  While they're getting their papers together and waiting for a response from the government people are able to stay and live in this building.

"Imagine all the people" photo from Fedasil

I co-led my group with a friend named Wayne.  From Uganda, Wayne left a very serious and difficult situation to find refuge in Belgium.  2 years ago, a STC volunteer team met him at Fedasil and quickly befriended Wayne over some games of Jenga!  STC and The Well became Wayne's family in Brussels. He's not only leading others in serving projects now, but also a great friend to us and an inspiration to our community!

We had 2 projects in Fedasil.  Painting and football.

The first 2 days I led my "dream team" painters in the beginning of repainting the offices of Fedasil.  At the end of the week, the staff commented how they haven't had a fresh, colorful look in 10 years in their offices and how it was such a blessing to them.  People like those working at Fedasil are our heroes- serving those in need every single day.  And we were blessed to be able to make their workplace a little brighter as they make huge impacts in hundreds of lives.

Friends living at Fedasil served along side of our team :)

The next 3 days were playing football/soccer!

I will sum up these three days with a short example of Abdi.

Abdi heard we were taking anyone who wanted to play soccer down to the park.  As he walked with us, he shared with me how he was in Belgium a year and a half ago seeking asylum.  He was then sent to Germany for 18 months with no progress only to return to Brussels being told something may happen for him.  He said for the last 10 days he has just been waiting to hear... something.  After almost 2 years of fleeing his country in Africa, all he can do is wait around everyday for his paperwork to be accepted or rejected.  While turning into the park, he looked at me and said, "Thank you for doing this."  It had been so incredibly stressful everyday to just sit, worry, and not know what his future may hold.  A soccer game was exactly what was needed.

How awesome it was to see his whole countenance change once he got on the field.  From stress to laughter, what a joy it was to see our new friend being able to breath and enjoy after so long of sitting and worrying.

Abdi in red. We were all getting ready to head the ball… as a group...

Though we may not have been able to be the answer to his immediate need of legal recognition, we were able to meet his need of friendship that week.  And not just him, but the many other young men and women who joined us everyday in the park for some games and fun. Crossing the line of despair to bring a little bit of hope can sometimes be as simple as a game of football.

We thank God for Fedasil.  Not just for our week there, but for an ongoing, wonderful relationship STC has serving them all throughout the year.  If you can, please pray for my friends Abdi, Elhadji, Wayne, and Omar as they are working through this difficult process of being given clearance to live in Belgium.  May they personally live in and be renewed by the Hope we have in our Lord!

Such a cool week to bring our trip into its closing season.  From traveling around the world painting a picture of movements of volunteers caring for the poor in their cities to being part of an incredible example of it in Brussels.  Check out the video below summarizing the BVW 2014!

Serve the City - Big Volunteer Week 2014 from Serve The City on Vimeo.

Hard to believe we'll be home this weekend.  Our trip reflection blog will be up in a couple weeks.

Much love to so many friends and family old and new.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Brazil! The World Cup and Nosebleeds

As many of you know, Donald and I have been on the road traveling for the past four months.  We have been working with Carlton Deal and the Brussels communities of Serve the City and The Well.  And may I say.. How crazy have these last couple months been!

With a group of volunteers during a Serve the City Focus Day in Brussels

So far, our journey has taken us all over Europe, to Africa, and now South America as ambassadors for firstly God's kingdom and more specifically to share and encourage what has been happening with Serve the City around the world.

People in dozens of countries have been asking, "What would it look like if we crossed the line?  To serve those who are marginalized in our city by showing love inspired by Jesus?"  And it has been incredible to see.

Donald and I have been learning as much if not even more than we've been serving.  We've been meeting incredible people who's stories we are blessed to share with the rest of the world.

So what happens on a trip like this when there's no money in the account to purchase our next tickets?  What happens when we're traveling to another country and we don't know where we will be staying while we're there for three weeks?  What if we got to the consulate for our visas and found out a simple process was actually expensive and very difficult?

Welcome to our experience with traveling to Brazil.  Was it a stress-filled headache with anxious thoughts of how could things possibly come together? Nope.  Here's why.

After returning from a life-changing experience in Burkina Faso, Africa; Donald and I flew back to Brussels.  (We had quite the culrtural experience during our Turkey layover, but I'll save the stories to share in person :)  While in Brussels, we started doing the math.  Tickets plus visas plus traveling expenses equalled us being closer to $2000 short of what we needed to go to Brazil.  We were scheduled to leave in two weeks.  

When preparing for this trip, I had many days of racking my brain and trying to figure out where this money was going to come from. At the same time, I was continuing to learn and know God's faithfulness.  Would I have been worried and anxious four months ago about needing $2000? Yes. Was I now? No. Why? God is trustworthy. While people in Brussels and back home were asking how everything was going to work out, we were confidently able to reply, "We don't know. But it really looks like God's opening the door. And where God has been opening doors, He's always provided."

Plain and simple, God's been taking care of us.  He's taken care of us financially, relationally, spiritually, and every other "ly" I can think of.  The most direct example was when we were two weeks out from our trip to Burkina Faso.  Donald and I had a conversation one night about how we needed $1100 for our trip to Africa.  What happened the very next day?  $1000 was placed in our missionary account and I got word from a friend that $101 was collected during a fundraiser at Chik-fil-a for our trip.  1100.  1101.  I mean.. come on. How crazy, right?? And that happening on the very next day following our conversation.

And that's not all.  Even in the simple things- Donald and I have been looking for places and have run into people speaking english and going to the very same place we are.  Also, pretty much every story from our blogs so far. He's been so gracious to us and we have been so blessed by the many of you He has used along the way that have been carrying us in prayer, finance, encouragement, and confidence.

So Brazil?  Bring it on! :)  

Coke in a supermarket in Brussels promoting the World Cup

First stop: Visas.  As I shared with someone recently, passports are the legal documents from your country that have pages to contain visas.  The visas are what grant you legal permission to be in a foreign country.  When we walked into the Brazillian consulate on a Monday morning, we truthfully, were pretty under-informed of the process of getting Brazillian visas as US citizens.  Our idea was to bring all the legal stuff we had and pay a rush fee to get the visas in a day and possibly grab tickets for a cheap flight the following day... As we asked the gentleman at the consulate about this plan, he laughed.  Apparently, this idea was not close to possible. We needed a ton of information- some we didn't even have, and best case to get visas was one week.  More likely, 2-3 weeks because of the World Cup.  Also... the cost would be $210 each for a visa.  That news was helpful, but very different from what we had thought.  Just then, Donald remembered we had heard about a World Cup visa online.  He asked about it and the response was, "World Cup visa?  Of course.  It's very simple.  If you show us your proof of tickets and fill out the application, you can get them in one week... for free."  

Donald and I went directly to the Serve the City offices looking for tickets.  Everything seemed sold out... but then we found a game.. Ivory Coast vs. Greece.  Nosebleed section.  $90. Purchased!

The next day we went back, showed our application and tickets and turned in our passports for our now reduced price and simple visas!  Donald later found that once we got to Brazil, Fifa would accept the tickets back, and if they resold them, we would get 90% of our money back! (Reason for not ending up not just going to this particular game was that its a 2 day journey from where we'd be...)

Oh yeah!

Every morning, Donald and I have committed to spend time seeking The Lord together and giving our days to Him.  How fun it has been rejoicing every morning for His grace and blessings as He takes care of every day!  We are living by faith for sure... we have not known so many things on this trip, but He's always working.  We can trust Him.

Being in Brussels for 3 weeks before we left for Brazil was such a blast.  We have 2 communities we are so close to- The Serve the City/Well crew and the International Baptist Church/Primetime crew.  There is a "home group" down the street from the STC offices that is full of friends.  Every time we are together, it is a blessing and encouragement.  While there the past couple weeks, this group decided to take a collection for us and send us out in prayer!  This was so special for us, and especially me because as many of you know, Brussels has been such a dear place for me for many years.  So to have a community here show this kind of love was just awesome.  

With the Primetime crew after a 20k race

Money continued to come in from various churches, friends, and family members back home until Donald and I did some math again and realized, we're going to Brazil! You guys are all such a blessing to us- from the bottom of our hearts, Thank you.

Rio- We did not take this picture :)

So what do you think guys?? How much can we see God move while in Brazil for three weeks?  How will He speak to people's hearts from around the country to have them unite in the their cities under the banner of the love demonstrated by His Son, Jesus? What could He do?!  We're excited to find out! Let us all prayerfully seek Him together on behalf of the people in São Paulo, São José, Rio de Janiero, and Santos, Brazil!

We have been in Brazil now for 3 days.  We got off the plane jet lagged on Saturday night and met our hosts while we're in São Paulo. Sunday morning we woke up to an experience that set the stage for the rest of our trip...

Continued in our Brazil blog! Coming in 3 weeks!

Financial Update:

As you've read, we are very grateful for our partners in ministry back home and abroad. So blessed! We are looking at the final countdown once we get back to Brussels for our journey. Here are our needs financially for our final leg of this adventure:

Getting home: $2000
Transportation and expenses in Brussels: $400
Christian Associates Conference (from February): $800
$3200 is our final need during this trip and to return home. Thank you all once again for your sacrifice and prayer.

Til next time!

Jerry and Donald

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Adventures of Jerry and Donald: Two Weeks in Burkina Faso

Have you ever come in from the cold and stood directly in front of a blasting heater so you could quickly warm up? You know, when you have those stiff hands you can hardly feel so you throw those jokers right in front a nice fire or a heater on high? That was sort of the feeling we got when we stepped off of the air-conditioned plane into the heart of Burkina Faso. Although, the feeling you’re thinking of is usually sensational, this was more of a shocking, confusing; ”here we go” type of feeling. At first the heat hit so hard I thought I must be standing next to an engine or something. Nope, we were just experiencing the end of a day that had reached 112 degrees F! From Brussels, Belgium to Ougadougou, Burkina Faso it didn’t take long to realize we had just traveled to an entirely different land. You hear that Burkina Faso is poor, but then you see it with your own eyes; you touch things, you taste things. You’re told not to travel there in late April because of how hot it is, then, you actually feel that heat and it becomes evident why. Jerry and I embraced all that was before us though, and the excitement that had been building for this trip for so long was finally going to be put to use; we were in Burkina Faso, Africa!
Richard Holt, a leader in the Global Hope Network, arrived to meet us at the airport. We had been Skyping Richard since last year to plan for this trip, and it was great to finally meet him in person! He brought us to the place we were staying to meet the rest of the team that we would be working with for our first week there.  There was The Talented Talitha AKA Tx3 AKA T-lite, a Ph.D in nutrition from Australia. Then, Florette AKA “Flow,” Amandine the Great, Florient, the most diligent photographer alive, and Thierry, the man of all men from France. There was also a local gentleman named Augustine who works with Campus Crusade for Christ in Ougadougou and has been partnering with Global Hope in Burkina. He was with us on this trip to serve the entire time. I present to you, “The B-Team.”

Confusion Prevention

In an attempt to prevent confusion, I am going to lay out what our plan for this trip was. The entire trip was set to be two weeks. We would arrive late Friday night. Saturday, Jerry and I would lead a presentation of Serve the City to local leaders. Sunday we would attend a local church and rest, then Monday we would head to a village in Burkina Faso for the remainder of the week to work with Global Hope in transformational community development. When we arrived back from the village we would get in touch or be reached out to by people that heard the vision of Serve the City the previous weekend. We would have meetings with individuals to hear their heart and passions and their interest in serving. Our goal then for the remaining week was to build a core group of leaders who could come together in unity to begin a movement of serving across their city by discussing major needs, possible solutions, and next steps in building momentum around these solutions. We wanted to gather these leaders, facilitate discussions, and help activate a movement of serving.

And So It Begins

Our first day of the trip was focused on Serve the City. Jerry and I were able to lead a presentation for a group of about 30 local leaders and church members through the help of Thierry, our translator for the presentation. We got a lot of wonderful feedback from the group there, and it got us very excited to meet with people when we got back from the village.
Our first Sunday there we visited Augustine’s local church. If you are like me you have always wondered, “What is church in Africa like!?” Well, without knowing where to start I’ll say that it seemed to be very including. Their range of ways to worship was diverse. Along with being a French speaking country, Burkina Faso has three major tribes that make up most of the population. During this church service each of those three tribes actually had their own time of special music and traditional dancing. Each had a totally different feel and different sound. During the time of singing in the service people of the congregation would often form dancing circles and praise the Lord as they danced and sang. Sometimes people would pray aloud and the congregation of a couple hundred would listen along and agree with them. It felt like a great celebration, and I really enjoyed how much the congregation participated in the service, whether through dance, song, or prayer.

Making our way to Senaba

The next day we set off on a three hour bus ride to Senaba. If we thought Ougadougou was shocking, this place made Ougadougou look like paradise! The village of Senaba is full of mud houses, and even straw structures. There is no electricity or running water. It is 10 km away from the nearest town, and they say during the 3-4 month rainy season no one can get in or out because of how bad the dirt roads get. It was definitely a different experience. Even Jerry, who has seen many poor villages around the world said this was one of the poorest, most secluded he had ever seen. Although Jerry and I embraced the experience before us, it wasn’t long until we realized that this was something we did not see coming, and there would be plenty of things that happened during our time there that would be much to our surprise. For instance, we didn’t find out that we would be sleeping on the ground until the trip to the village. This normally isn’t something I mind at all, but as we were hanging around outside I saw some monstrous bugs! Jer and I were freaking out a bit over these bugs, specifically the gigantic spiders that crawled faster than a magic bullet. Just to embarrass Jerry a bit, there was even one night at dinner where a bug landed on Jerry and he freaked and accidently tossed his food out of his bowl and it flew all over a couple of pastors sitting near him! Haha. We all got a kick out of that.
It didn’t take long for tragedy to actually strike. The first night we set our mosquito nets up outside and thin mats to lie on. We chose outside because the only building we had available to sleep in was very hot, and outside we could catch the breeze. Jerry was the lone man who actually chose to sleep inside after the sight of these killer spiders. I was quiet paranoid myself, so when we all laid down to get some sleep, I laid awake for 2 hours.. The next thing we know a heavy wind comes rushing in tearing down all our mosquito nets! The locals knew that this wind meant that rain was coming, and in a matter of minutes we gathered everyone’s nets and mats and headed in to join Jerry in a church building just beating the down pour. When I went to lie down I felt as if I had a cut on my right leg, and I didn’t think much of it because I had been playing football earlier. When I woke up the next morning I realized that a bug had bit my leg and it’s acid had burned through my skin and left a huge wart! On the bright side I had a war scar to show for the trip.

By the second day we felt a bit more comfortable having the initial shock behind us, and it just turned out to be an essential, life-changing week. During our time there we were able to help the growth of the village through sustainable development. The people who live there were so welcoming and took such great care of us! We made good friends and shared so many good times with them. Even though there was a language barrier I discovered there is no barrier in Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot! Aha, that was my personal contribution to the village. The cool thing about Saneba was that the people living there were really interested in developing. Global Hope has been active there for two years, and they have seen the locals take complete ownership over the ideas and methods taught there. This week in particular, the focus was on healthy nutrition. Talitha, a member of our team this week, headed much of this project up, as she is a PH D in nutrition. It was a great experience, not only to teach and demonstrate things to the village, but also to learn from her. One of the projects was to teach the villagers how to grown plants, specifically carrots and onions, in a big rice bag. See, the soil here isn’t the most fertile soil, but by putting soil, compost, and straw around a cylinder of rocks in a big rice bag in a specific sequence, you can create a very fertile soil for the vegetables to be planted in. I just made it sound a bit simpler than it is, but that is the gist of it. This is going to have a huge impact on the amount of nutritious vegetables each family will have from now on. Another big project was showing them how to create their own compost holes and how to maintain them. This again, has the focus on creating more ways to plant healthy vegetables because the main focus is nutrition. It was emphasized that these vegetables are not for selling; they are for the nutrition of the families in the village. A third project was a dish drying rack. A problem in the village has been that they clean dishes that they use, but then stack them together, allowing bacteria to build in the water that sits under the heat all day. So, the idea of a dish drying rack, although foreign, will be very impactful as Senaba develops. The rack was made from carved branches in the village.
Those were the projects that the week was centered around, but the impactful parts weren’t only us helping the village, it was Jerry and I experiencing the village. To see the children’s eyes as they watched a movie on a projector screen, having The Lion King playing in Africa… Being able to look up at the African stars and quote Mufasa! Aha. Silly things like that. We saw so clearly what it means to serve, as there were people who served us from the moment we arrived, until the day we left. That was just the culture there. We saw people have so much joy that there would be times we would crack up even though we couldn’t understand them, just seeing the joy and laughter they shared. I made a friend there named Pascal and I’m telling you his laughter was simply contagious! If he cracked up, there was no stopping me! aha. He always brought a good time with him. We had so much fun with them doing everything from playing football; to having them demonstrate how to play their handcrafted drum! I did a little number and some of the guys broke out into a dance! Hahah, It was just such a good time! We served with an awesome team who was willing to do anything it seemed, and that was really encouraging and motivating for us to give it our all while we were there.
At the end of the week we even got to attend a traditional Burkina Faso wedding! 8 couples got married all at once! The ceremony was full of traditional dancing and music, and each couple had their own special moment of committing their lives to each other. After the wedding, traditionally everyone has a feast, and then after the feast everyone walks each couple to their homes to consummate the marriage. Then, around 10:00 at night everyone returns for a night of dancing. That’s right…. All night they dance! From 10:00 all the way until sunrise they have a blast! Mannnnnn you should have seen our moves! We had about 2 or 3 moves in the arsenal that stole the show! Hah. We didn’t dance the whole night, but the experience was great indeed.
I’ll never be able to tell you what my eyes saw, ears heard, and heart experienced that week; not in this blog, or even as I share stories in person with my dear friends. It was simply indescribable, and altogether a transformation of my view on people, and the way life is lived. I thank God for counting me worthy to taste and see something so special. I thank God for this tremendous blessing of a life-growing experience.
Can I be real with you though? About the third morning there I was walking and praying with the Lord, and I remembered thinking through what it would be like to live there. Not just for a week, but to actually live there. What if that’s what the Lord called me to? And I’m looking around at this vast nothingness around me thinking, I couldn’t do it… If the Lord called me to live here I don’t think I could do it. The realization hit me so hard that I am not ready to do whatever the Lord would ask me to do. I just want to be real with you guys! Yes the trip was awesome, and our experience was such a great blessing, but I don’t want that to be the only thing I portray in this blog. If I’m being honest it was a really tough experience. There were a lot of times I wished I was somewhere else; somewhere with hot pockets, ice water, and friends. And if I’m completely being honest I have a long way to go before I can say, “I surrender all.”

Back to Ougadougou
            We began our first full day back in the city by seeking after the Lord. “Seek and you shall find.” The scriptures say. After such an experience in the village for the past week, I remember feeling so excited to spend a new day with the Lord. I prayed to Him like a boy going to work with His Father for the day. I was so excited to spend the day with my Father with no agenda of my own, just completely following Him as He was at work. After Jerry and I spent some time in prayer, Richard walks in with perfect timing just after our “Amen” and says, “breakfast time!” While we were spending our last breakfast with the crew here, as they were all flying out this night, Richard steps in to the breakfast room and says, “There is a pastor here who would like to meet with you following breakfast.” It turns out he was at the STC seminar the past weekend. After hearing from him and talking things through Augustine tells Jerry and I that another Pastor has just called him and wants to meet with us. Neither Augustine nor Jerry or I even knew the guy’s name, but of course we accept. Thankfully, he spoke English and we were able to speak directly to him. He brought a young man with him as well.
He began explaining to us that he is a local pastor here in Ougadougou. The young man he brought with him used to be a rejected child living on the streets with nothing, and now plays music and sings at this gentleman’s church. The pastor brought him so that he could explain the reality of what is going on in the city. He begins sharing crazy stories with us that created a pretty graphic picture of life for these kids. These are stories that will stay between us, but as he began sharing with us we saw just how rejected they are.
These are children who live on the streets and no one wants to even get near. They have no homes. They don’t interact with groups who want to help them much, because there is a long history of things going bad. If something goes missing, they are blamed. If anything bad at all happens really, they are blamed, and they know they will be taken straight to the police. So, they just don’t interact with many people. They have no way to be trained for jobs. They can’t even go to school because they are stoned by others when they do. They aren’t just teased; they are stoned! It is just a terrible situation. When we asked about possible solutions the young man did not hesitate to give us about 6 great ideas right off the top of his head. He began sharing about how a football game could work to build relationships with the kids if it’s done the right way. He shared how a singing competition would be good because many of them are very musical. Not only singing, but he said they would love a night of traditional dancing or even a dancing competition. There were a few more good ideas such as these. This is what we are all about! We want to know how we can serve these children in need in a way that will build relationships with them.
 He told us that if we really want to experience what is going on in Ouga we needed to see these children and young adults living on the streets in person. If we could see them, touch them, actually speak to them; we will see the reality. So, a few days later that is exactly what we did. We visited a site where a few dozen kids normally gather to sleep and had a discussion with about a dozen of them. By the end of our time of getting to know about their lives and their hopes, we were dancing around and talking smack over checkers. Aha. Jerry may or may not have gotten into an intense battle.. We had made friends and it was a great time with the young people who were so much fun to be around. We left with a feeling inside that whatever we can do for these kids, we want to do! We saw them and had compassion like never before. The experience of seeing these hungry, homeless, helpless kids was
a total perspective changer.
We spent our entire last week gathering leaders from all over Ougadougou to meet and share the vision of Serve the City with. With most of them we shared about these street children. Our last night in Africa we were able to get all of these leaders together for one big meeting. These were guys who showed a passion for serving and a desire to get Serve the City going in their city.  During the meeting, they not only talked over these street children, but even came up with 6 focus groups of their own!
1. Street kids
2. Single moms
3. Widows
4. Ill treated house servants
5. Poor families
6. Prisoners

            At the end of the meeting they decided they would do their first project on June 21st! It was very exciting to see things come together in Ougadougou. In fact, we just got word that they had a follow up meeting a week after we left and have committed to focusing the first project on the street children. We are so humbled that God counted us worthy to be a part of something so special. We are constantly reminded that this trip is so much bigger than Jerry and Donald, and the things that we can see. This has kingdom value! We love every minute of being a part of this. After reading this we ask that you might take a moment to pray for our friends. Not only is Serve the City started in the capital, Ougadougou, but it is also starting in a nearby town named Founzan. It is even going to be starting in the bordering country of Benin! Burkina Faso is not an easy place to live out faith in Jesus Christ as it is a majority Muslim country. There are also very few Christians in the country of Benin. We’re praying that serving may be a common ground for people who are inspired by Jesus to serve with absolutely anyone. As Christians, Muslims, and all peoples serve together it is our hope that relationships will be built, and our belief that relationships are key to evangelism. Pray with us that these relationships are formed, and that the gospel may be spread through them!

            Big thank you to Richard Holt and Global Hope for giving us the opportunity to team up with them for this trip and have this tremendous experience. And thank you, the reader, so much for taking the time to hear about our adventures!
                                                                                                Globally Yours,

                                                                                                            Jerry and Donald

Monday, May 12, 2014

Croatia, Kosovo, and Germany: The Finale of our Balkan Adventure!

On April 4th, Donald and I left our friends in Skopje, Macedonia to head north to Osijek, Croatia.  Originally, our plan after Skopje was to visit people connected with ROM (Renewing Our Minds) in Podgorica, Montenegro and work with a group in Zagreb, Croatia.  For different reasons though, both of those cities weren’t able to host us.  In Osijek, we were invited and received by friends of Carlton- Nena and her husband, Darko.  They’ve been working together with a gentleman named Slave who has a huge heart for The Lord and following His instructions in his life.

Nena and Darko Leading in 
Songs of Worship at a Church Plant

            Over the weekend stay, we were able to meet and live life with people in this community.  The purpose of our time in Osijek was to see what The Lord was doing there, encourage them, and report back to Brussels on how everything was going.  They were rockin it out there.  From innovation in medical advancements to creating jobs, this group of people was really making a difference in the lives of those in this area.  People without jobs or from the street were given jobs and connected to church plants.  Their spiritual and physical needs were being met.  It was encouraging to see the same people everywhere we went- from a Bible study in a home to a church plant in a hotel to a new factory for locally made products.  What a solid example of evangelism, discipleship, and community!

Slave Helping People Learn Skills, Maintain Jobs, 
and Meet The Lord

            While in Osijek, Donald and I stayed in a dorm room of a seminary.  Staying there was another example of the way The Lord continues to open doors.  When we first arrived, the plan was to stay in a home but they could no longer host us.  The next option was to stay in a place 30km outside the city and to travel back and forth every day.   Once we started talking about options of places to stay, Slave remembered they had rented a room for the month at the evangelical seminary in the city.  The person who was staying there had just left and the room was completely available to us!  So blessed.

From a Wall in Osijek

            When staying at the seminary, I met a young man named Sasha.  He was from a Roma community in southern Serbia.  It was incredible to hear his testimony and watch videos of The Lord powerfully moving in his hometown.  While talking to Sasha and his friends one night, I felt a “nudging” from The Lord.  What I mean by that is there are times, seemingly out of nowhere, when I feel strongly in my spirit to pay attention to what’s going on and what The Lord may be saying.  All of a sudden, our simple conversation went from casual talk to exhortation.  I began speaking to Sasha and his friends and encouraging them in The Lord in a way I can’t explain.  One of those times where He takes over and speaks specific encouragements through you that you never planned on saying.  The reason I share this, is I had forgotten.  I forgot to be paying attention.  Paying attention to how He may want to speak through me.  I wondered how my life would look if I was always paying attention?  What would my interactions with my neighbors look like if I was always looking for The Lord to speak, whether to or through me to others?  I pray I can be a man who is consistently listening to Him speak.
Our Friends in Osijek

            Our journey through the Balkan region was coming to a close.  From the very beginning, we could clearly see The Lord bringing everything together.  As I often say of these trips, it was like walking through a storybook.  And our final week was no different.  The last stop? Kosovo.  What a finale! Check it out.

            So first of all, here’s something to note.  At this point in our trip, Serve the City would officially be starting in Novi Sad and Belgrade, Serbia; Skopje, Macedonia; and Tirana, Albania.  Our trip from Croatia to Kosovo required us to go to Belgrade, Serbia.  We then had a layover where we spent the night in Skopje, Macedonia.  And after going to Kosovo, we flew out of Tirana, Albania.  Going on a return path of all the STC startups- another cool, unplanned part of walking through the storybook of God.
            Now, Kosovo.  I personally was very excited to go to Kosovo after having been there 8 years prior on a short-term missions trip.  Our purpose was to attend a meeting of the Balkan Networks.  Lee and our other friends from Siria, Romania were very involved in the organizing of this meeting.  The purpose was for like-hearted, kingdom-minded people to come together to worship, pray, and discuss ways The Lord was moving throughout the region.  Wooooo!  I was so pumped for this because this idea is what I personally love.  I love the idea of people uniting together from different backgrounds.  And I love talking about what God is doing right now! Especially in an area we had just spent 6 weeks traveling around.  This was very exciting.  We were also excited about seeing our Serve the City friends from Albania because we invited them to the Meeting in Kosovo and they decided to attend!

Seeing our Friends from Romania again

Arriving in Beautiful Gjakova, Kosovo

Our first night was with 40 people from primarily all over the Balkans but also around the world!  There were people from most of the cities we had visited so it was great exchanging stories with them.  We saw our STC friends from Tirana, Albania and sat next to them at dinner.  There was one guy named Bryan that I heard of from an email thread.  During the previous week, Carlton was trying to connect us about Serve the City in Skopje- but then, there was Bryan in person… pretty crazy.  And then there was Steve Frey!  When I was in Kosovo 8 years earlier, Steve was one of the missionaries who hosted us!  So great to see him and catch up.  And everything just got better from there.

Steve and I in 2006 and 2014

            The next three days were full of worship, discussion, encouragement, exhortation, prophecy, networking, and friendships.  People got up and explained how documented prophecies had been coming true all over the region and how it all connected to how The Lord was moving in the hearts of the people in the different countries.  Many people shared the ministry God was doing in their cities and countries including prayer gatherings, music festivals, serving projects, community development, and worship movements. On the final day, we took time to circle around the people attending from each country.  That final day was amazing as we took hours to pray and encourage people representing most countries in the Balkans.  During this time of prayer, we saw people apologizing on behalf of their countries to people from countries that they had been at war with.  In return, people were giving forgiveness- some having lost family members in those wars.  Powerful.

Lee Sharing Updates and Encouragement

Praying for Those Serving in Romania

We were asked to share with the group about Serve the City, and so Donald and I took 15 minutes to share the vision and some stories.  The response was awesome!  People from two cities in Kosovo talked to us about getting Serve the City started.  One man was a pastor from Gjakova, Kosovo.  That was the city where we were having the Meeting.  The other city was the home of Doug Towne.  Let me tell you about “D-Towne…”

            Quick Backstory:  We needed to get from Gjakova to a city called Prizren, Kosovo after the Meeting because our Serve the City friends from Albania were having a one night retreat there and could give us a ride back to Tirana, Albania where we were going to fly back to Brussels.

            Donald and I were excited about meeting our roommate during our time in Kosovo.  Most people were staying in a hostel-like building and Donald and I were told our roommate would be a day late.  His name?  Doug Towne.  Doug came a day late to the Meeting.  We connected well right off the bat.  Doug is an Australian guy who is in Kosovo as a missionary with his wife and four children.  When he heard about Serve the City, he became very interested and started talking over ideas.  He asked us what we were doing after the Meeting and we explained we needed to get to Tirana for a flight, but were really trying to figure out a way to get to this city called Prizren.  Doug’s response?  “Really? I’m from Prizren. That’s where my family and I live.  You can come back with me and stay the night with us.”  Boom.  How crazy??
            During the same day, Donald and I were eating out with two guys named Barry and Steve.  They were both missionaries from the States to Tirana, Albania.  When together they described themselves as the two old hecklers from the Muppets.  Funny and true.  So while eating, Barry tells us of this place in Tirana that has the best food.  He said it’s actually crazy because the guy who owns the place was trained in the states close to where Donald and I live- in the state of Pennsylvania. 
When I asked where, he said, “Some place called Doylestown- and the owner in Tirana ended up naming his restaurant, ‘D-Town.’” 
“Doylestown, Pennsylvania?”  I asked surprised, “That’s where I was born! My father was also born there…” It was becoming apparent this was a sign of what we needed to do with our dinner plans for our last night before flying out of Tirana. 
Donald then realized out loud, “Wait… our roommate’s name is Doug Towne… D-Towne!”
            We laughed quite a bit at all the odd connections of this awesome last day in the Balkans that was coming together.  So that Saturday night, when the Meeting had concluded, we headed with D-Towne to Prizren.  The next morning we spent time with his family reading scripture, worshipping, and having such a meaningful time discussing Palm Sunday and watching their loving family interact and encourage each other.  In the afternoon, we hiked up to an old fortress that was being restored and overlooked the city.  After some pictures, Doug and I spent time praying over the city as we walked back down.  After an ice cream cone on this hot day, we said our goodbyes and met our Albanian family who took us back to Tirana.  That night, we met up with Barry who treated us to some amazing steak and burgers at the one and only D-Town!  We were able to meet the owners and share stories.  It was also crazy to hear that the owner worked in Kintnersville, PA! Home of Camp Melody for the past 15 years!
With Doug Towne and His Family

Praying over Prizren, Kosovo

With Barry and the Doylestown Crew in D-Town

            After a long and tiring, but incredible, blessed, and rewarding 6 ½ weeks in the Balkans, Donald and I returned home.  Home being in Brussels with the Wesselinks.  They are the wonderful family who has graciously allowed us to call their house our home during the entirety of our trip.  Though we will be there for only 2 of the 5 ½ months we’re abroad, every time we’re back in Brussels, we get to stay with them.  We are so blessed to have such a wonderful couple as Albert and Ruth who take such good care of us.
Donald and I spent the next week and a half thinking over the cities we were able to visit in the Balkans.  Belgrade, Novi Sad, Siria, Timisoara, Thessaloniki, Athens, Tirana, Skopje, Osijek, Gjakova, and Prizren all had people The Lord had blessed us with meeting.  Starting Serve the City, receiving training from Global Hope, encouraging local believers, watching communities develop, hearing about what the Church is doing in a particular city, and praying over the region- The Lord God has brought us through quite and incredible journey. 
After taking a couple days off to rest and taking time to report on our trip to Carlton, Donald and I went with our friends Irina, Tornike, and Chris to visit my Aunt Carolyn and Uncle John in Germany for Easter.  Though it was a little more traveling, the weekend was exactly what we needed.  Quality and encouraging time with friends and family, time to share our personal testimonies with each other, and laughing about stories of mishaps and memories made for the perfect weekend before getting ready for our next leg of the trip less than a week later…

With Family and Friends in Germany

Next Blog: Burkina Faso, Africa!!!