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Our Fourth Week in Rijeka

Posted by gramma on September 30, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Our fourth week in Rijeka, as usual has been a mixed bag. We picked up two new readers, but illness and work kept some of our readers from coming as much as they would have otherwise. Nevertheless we logged 30 hours for a total of 92 hours for our four-week project. Our party was small but we had a lot of fun, played People Bingo, Pictionary, a poor man's version of Headband and Switch. Val's knee was good enough that even she played switch. We made new friends while we were here, we had a lot of good discussions and we let God's Word work on all of us.

 

As we said above, illness has reared it's ugly head this week. Val has been struggling all week with a sinus bug of some sort. Val's high school girl also had a similar malady as she came to read the last couple of times. As they read it sounded like a gaggle of geese was in the room with all the nose-blowing! Thankfully, Val has not felt so bad, but she has gone through almost three 10-packs of tissue.

 

We appreciate so much the support that we have had from the Kristova Crkva (Christ's Church). Damir and Ivana, had us in their home and took us out to eat a couple of times. Zlatko, a former elder supplied us with two phones to use while here, took us on a walking tour of the city and attended all our parties. Jelena, a member and reader living on the ground floor of the church building, has let us use her internet connection when needed and fetched meds from the pharmacy where she works. Dean, another member and reader, served as our companion and driver on our two days off. It was nice because we went places he had never been too also.

 

Santa Barbara supposedly has a Mediterranian climate and we typically receive no rainfall at all between April and November, but here in Rijeka, situated on the Adriatic Sea, part of the Mediterranian Sea, it rained about half of the days we were here. Historically they get about 4 1/2 inches of rain in September (more this year I think). Apparently there are nuances to this climate thing.

 

We are now safely in Hamburg, Germany with our dear friends Jo and Marion Reinhold for a couple of weeks before we go on a river cruise on the Danube. Thank you so much for your prayers and support for our LST project in Rijeka. May the Lord continue to water the seeds that were planted.

Three weeks have flown by

Posted by gramma on September 24, 2017 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

As usual time is slipping by in a hurry. With two new readers we were blessed with 23 hours of reading this week. Once again we had a small, but very nice, party with about 40% of our readers in attendance and good support from our hosting church. It was a blessing as we had an English language night, even writing Cinquain poetry. Here are a couple of samples:

 

Father

Strong, trustworthy

Caring, loving, watching

Always close to me

God


 

Party

Happy, Cheerful

Singing, eating, playing

My fifth birthday party

Perfect

 

So you see, they are a rather talented group. And it is always so wonderful watching the readers and the church members interact so much and seem to enjoy being together.

 

One of Steve's readers, Dean, who has been a christian only a couple of years, has served as our driver as we visited Plitvice last Saturday and this Saturday when we travelled to the islands of Krk and Cres. It has been a delight to be with him; his English is good and he has a great sense of humor and most importantly, he has a great sense of gratitude for his new life as a follower of Christ. We have so enjoyed him coming with us.

 

For whatever reason, when we were in Zagreb about ten years ago for an LST project, we paid little attention to the Croatian language. Here in Rijeka, we have heard it and seen it written much more. Because Steve took several years of Russian in high school and college, when he heard Croatian he heard a lot of Russian words. It turns out they are both Slavic languages and the Croatians have taken the sounds of the 33-letter cyrillic alphabet in Russian and 'translated' them into the 26-letter latin alphabet with the help of a few extra marks over some letters, giving them also 33 letters. The words look very different but the sounds are almost identical.

 

Like we said, it is hard to believe this is a last week. It has been difficult getting readers, even though our number seems to be all over town and on the web. We will share some ideas of what might help bring more next year with those that invited us, you never know what will work. But that being said, the readers we have are wonderful. Some readers are new Christians and they are hearing, discussing and learning new things about Jesus. Some are searching a little but they are content where they are in their beliefs and not really sure it makes a difference what one believes. They want to know why can't we just be our own guide, deciding what is right and wrong. One is soaking up every word and really searching, wanting to know more. Our readers represent all kinds of soil, the seed is being planted and others will water.

Our second week in Rijeka has come to an end

Posted by gramma on September 17, 2017 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Our second week was highlighted by our first party. It was small but everyone seemed to have a good time. Two-thirds of our readers were there, which is always good. Also, we were able to sign up two new readers! We have included a couple of pics from the party in the photo album.

 

We had 21 hours of reading sessions this week in spite of the fact that one of Steve's readers, one who came every day in the first week and usually stayed for two hours, was only able to come one day during the week because of overtime at work. We hope he is able to get back into his normal schedule this next week. Val's readers (so far) are all young ladies including a twelve year-old who is just beginning to learn English, a boarding school student learning to make dental prosthetics in a vocational high school and a college student who is a physics major. The latter asked Steve on Thursday how the moon created tides on the earth so Steve wrote out some equations and drew some diagrams and gave her a quick 'lecture' on gravitational forces on Friday.

 

Val's knee seems to be improving. Friday night she walked about 20 minutes to a pizza place where one of Steve's new readers works. Saturday we visited a spectacular National Park called Plitvice (pronounced Plit-veetse) Lakes, and Val probably walked a bit too far but doesn't seem to be suffering too much. It was so incredibly beautiful with more waterfalls in one place than we have ever seen.

 

Much of the Croatian coast is like the Riviera, lined by low mountains. The highways that run along the 'coast' are actually high up on the mountainside passing from tunnel to bridge, tunnel to bridge. The cities, like Rijeka, are then spread up the side of the mountains. Consequently, many roads tend to angle up and down the mountainsides. Those who travel on foot, however, are usually stuck with stairs and I have never seen so many stairs as there are here in Rijeka. Often a stairway will have more than 100 steps, never without periodic landings and sometimes with only 4 or 5 steps in a group, but in the end you have to climb them all to get to the next street.

 

Our first week in Rijeka, Croatia

Posted by gramma on September 9, 2017 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (1)

September, 2017 finds us in Rijeka, Croatia. We arrived about a week ago for a four-week Let's Start Talking Project. We are hosted by the Kristova Crkva (Christ's Church) and they have already been very helpful and supportive.

 

We do not have a lot of readers at this point, about 6, but a couple of new ones are scheduled to come next week. Our readers come just about every day so we logged 15 hours of conversation centered on the Gospel of Luke in four days. One reader, who began reading with Ky and Amy Martin during a two-week LST project earlier this summer, has already done 5 hours of reading in four days.

 

The days and weeks before leaving for Croatia were especially hectic. Val's left knee began hurting just before going to a felting workshop in Massachusetts. During the workshop the pain increased and an MRI immediately afterward (and only four days before our departure to Croatia) indicated a bad tear in her meniscus. There was no time to even consult an orthopedic specialist, let alone do anything to repair it. Given that meniscus tears sometimes repair themselves and that we didn't want to cancel the LST project, nor the visit we had planned with our dear friends Jo and Marion afterward, we decided to leave as planned.

 

Val spent most of the first week essentially confined to quarters, which seems to have helped her knee settle down, but her Fitbit step count has been pretty abysmal! Thankfully, our living accommodations, with the exception of our bedroom, which has a sink, are on the same level as our reading room so Val doesn't have to climb or descend the stairs too much. Saturday was our day off so we took a taxi downtown (10 mins) and rode a sightseeing bus around Rijeka and over to the resort town of Opatje. It was fun and Val racked up over 10,000 steps without noticeable negative effects on her knee. (Although I have just witnessed the taking of a pain pill as the ice pack has warmed up!) Please pray that her knee continues to stabilize.

Our fourth and last week in Athens

Posted by gramma on April 24, 2016 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Our fourth and last week in Athens has come to an end. We lost a few readers in our last week but many continued to come just about every day. We have totaled 359 hours of reading over the last four weeks, with over 70 different people. Some have gotten as far as Lesson 16 in our Luke books. We have had good discussions when the reader's level of English allowed it. We have many readers who are very interested in what we are reading and not just the English. We had our hand off meeting yesterday with Dino and Demetrios and they will be trying to keep contact with several of the readers and provide them with more English but also to provide them with more of who Jesus is.

 

For those of you who are wondering, Steve's reader who was picked up by the police last week remains in custody, but apparently he is doing well. But continue to pray for him and his wife. Because she also does not have proper documentation, she can't visit him, but a good friend, who has a valid document has been able to visit about every day.

 

Much of what we have included in the blog has been about the refugee situation here in Greece. We should also say a bit more about Greece itself. The country finds itself in a financial crisis; however, it is not that evident to us visitors. The city of Athens has a wonderful Metro system, it is beautiful and efficient; we ride it every day. It was built in time for the 2004 Olympics and I think cost overruns contributed to the debt that Greece has built up with the European Union. Tourists are everywhere in Greece even though it is not yet the high season. Admittedly we live and work in a nicer part of Athens, but it seems like most places we have been are well-maintained and we haven't seen a lot of empty building or abandoned construction projects except when we were driving through smaller towns across the country.

 

The Greeks seem to be quite proud of their role in the Second World War. After Italy failed to invade Greece early in the war, evidently the Germans were forced to alot part of the military units that would have gone to the Russian front to the invasion of Greece, which took longer that planned to accomplish. The ultimate defeat of the Germans in Russia is thus at least partially due to stubborn resistance from the Greeks. Of course Germany took out their frustration of losing in Russia on the Greeks. Consequently, there are still some hard feelings on the part of both the Germans and the Greeks, which doesn't help the current finincial situation.

 

On Sunday we had a multi-cultural worhsip experience at the church. There were Greeks, Russian-speakers (from Ukraine and Russia), Persian-speakers (from Iran and Afghanistan), a few of us English-speaking Americans and a group from a Romanian church that sang several songs for us. The service was mostly in Greek with English translation. After worship, the church fed everyone. They have about a dozen stainless steel baking pans that we filled with potatoes, zucchini and chicken before worship, then they took them to a local bakery and they baked them during worship. We cut up cucumbers and tomatoes for a salad and cabbage for another. Now we know how to cook for an intimate party of 100!

 

That's right, there were nearly 100 people there, including 25 readers who brought about 10 other friends with them. We sang in Greek and English, we listened to songs in Romanian and Russian and we prayed in Greek and English. After beginning at about 10:30 it was nearly 2:30 before it was over. There were a few tears shed and lots and lots of pictures taken. It was really hard to say goodbye to this group. Most of the Iranians are in their 20's and most don't expect to ever see their parents again so we became their temporary parents.

 

We pray that seeds of faith have been planted through our efforts here and more than ever before we hope to keep in contact with some of our readers so we can find out where God leads them.

Week 3 in Athens has flown by

Posted by gramma on April 17, 2016 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (0)

We have had another good week and time is beginning to fly by even faster. We have now surpassed the 300 hour mark in reading. Many come every day and we do see some progress in those whose English is limited. A few are self-taught and at the beginning they struggled to read because they have learned by listening to movies and music; they have never learned grammar and they have read very little in English. After a couple of weeks their reading improves markedly as they see many words over and over again. With their limited ability to actually speak English, we seldom know what they readlly understand about our lessons, but we do know that their ability in English is advancing, and that will undoubtedly be a blessing to them in the future, no matter where thay land.

 

On Friday we learned that one of our Iranian refugee readers was arrested by the police. He is a really nice guy so this came as quite a blow to us and because his wife and her sister, as well as the sister's husband, are all readers we also had some holes in our schedule on Friday as they were trying to find out where he was being held. This reinforces the uncertainty with which many of our readers must live everyday. The date on his documents had expired, even though he had been given a date for review which is past his expiration date, he is still held liable for expired documents and being out of the camp with said documents.

 

As we are here longer we have begun to understand a bit more of the process the refugees must go through. It goes something like this: When they first arrive, usually illegally, they are given a document that allows them to be 'legal' for one month and they soon get an appointment to plead their case for a longer (2 mos.) period. They are supposed to stay where they receive this first document (not Athens) but virtually all of them come to Athens anyway and the appointments are all after the expiration of the document. Consequently, probably all of our readers are here in Athens illegally and risk being picked up when they come to our reading sessions. Another interesting thing we are gradually learning is that for whatever reason, the Iranians believe that they have a better chance of making it to Germany, Sweden or even the US, if they pretend to be from Afghanistan. So many have changed their names and destroyed their Iranian passports and IDs. However, their only real chance of getting into Europe legally is if they have their real Iranian documentation.

 

One of Steve's readers is Belorussian, married to a Greek. She is not a believer, but from the outset was interested in the idea that God rewards us when we trust Him. At her last reading session, she teared up when Steve shared how God had blessed his career after we began to do LST every year in spite of the drain on his time in regard to doing research at UCSB. At the end of the session she shared that she would likely not return to read. She said she would probably be going back to her native Belarus without her husband. Steve asked if she would like to pray about the decision and he prayed for God's leading, again tears flowed. We don't yet know for sure the 'rest of the story.'

 

We had a small but good party on Saturday this week. All whoo were there had a lot of fun. We are thinking now that Saturday was not the best day to have a party. We also had quite a few no-shows for reading that day. Oh well, live and learn. Next Sunday all three cgroups that meet in the church building where we read will meet together for a meal and the church is inviting all the readers to join in. Should be fun.

Our second week in Athens

Posted by gramma on April 10, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

We have finished our second week here in Athens and it has been another very good week. We continue to add new readers; everyday our readers bring friends who want to read, but many of them do not know enough English to really have a conversation with them. We have now completed over 200 hours of reading sessions in our two weeks and have read with about 70 different people.

 

The new readers that we are getting are mostly from the Iranian refugee community here. While most of them have Muslim backgrounds and have left family who are Muslim, most have embraced christianity at some level since arriving here in Greece. They all tell us that returning to Iran would mean certain death to them, but none seem to have any regrets regarding their decision to follow Christ. Unlike our muslim readers in Jordan who exhibited strong belief in Islam, our Iranian readers seem anxious to leave the brand of Islam they experienced in their homeland. But as you might imagine most of these refugees who are new to christianity do not have strong faith and have limited knowledge of the New Testament. Their limited knowledge of English is a substatial hurdle in our helping them to deepen their faith and knowledge but 'God can do anything' and they certainly appreciate the opportunity to improve their English as it will make them much more employable if and when they are able to go somewhere where they can find employment.

 

We are reading a few hours on Sunday afternoon and a few of our readers stay for church Sunday evening. Also, we had our first party on Thursday this week and we began the day fearing that no one would be able to come because of a one-day strike that threatened to close the Metro, but our fears were misplaced and we had nearly 60 people come to the party. We only had a little over 20 of our readers come but they brought friends, some of whom we signed up to read. We have never had a party where there were so many native tongues: Greek, Russian, Farsi and Arabic. We have to keep our activities pretty simple, but the party was a great success and we saw a lot of smiles.

 

To get to Greece, most of our Iranian readers traveled to the westen border of their country and walked into Turkey, then made their way to Istanbul where they boarded a boat to one of the Greek Isles and on to Athens. One, however, first flew from Tehran to Moskow, took a train to Murmansk and tried to walk across the Norwegian border in -40 degree weather only to be turned back by the Norwegians, he then went further south and tried walking into Finland but was turned over to Russian authorities who eventually flew him to Istanbul and....here he is. Another couple who reads with us has tried ten times (in four mounths) to cross from Greece into Macedonia. The last time they made it across and went on into Serbia, then Croatia and on into Slovenia, but eventually were turned back and had to retrace their steps, being beaten up at least twice by locals who told them to go back to Iran.

 

In addition to our Iranian readers, we also have several readers from Ukraine who have fled the civil war that has gripped their country for the last couple of years. Because not all of Ukraine is embroiled in war, some of these refugees are being denied assylum here. Even though their hometowns are in shambles, they are expected to return to another part of their country where there is no war, but also no job, no family and no support structure.

 

In spite of the uncertainty, hardship and scarcity that many of our readers face every day, they come to our reading sessions with a positive attitude and smiles on their faces. They continually express their gratitude and our illustration, and that of other christian workers in Greece, of what it is like to be a Christ-follower seems to be something unknown in their past experience. We pray that God will use the seeds of faith that we are planting to grow His kingdom in ways that we can't imagine.

Moving on to Athens, Greece

Posted by gramma on April 2, 2016 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Well we have made a quick transition from Jordan to Greece. Athens is a beautiful place and we enjoy a distant view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon from the balcony of our apartment. (I know, it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.) Our first week here has been very busy. This week we read from Tuesday through Saturday and plan to read three hours on Sunday afternoon. Through Saturday we logged about 120 hours of reading sessions.

 

The Glyfada church where we are working is in fact three different groups. On Sunday morning they have a Greek worship service, in the afternoon there is a worship service for Russian speakers and in the evening there is an English service. Last Sunday we had a couple of information meetings and signed up about 25 readers, most of whose mother tongue is Russian.

 

The US media has focused on the flood of immigrants from the war zones in Syria and Iraq; however, on Monday evening we attended a gathering of about 200 refugees, most of whom were Farsi-speaking people from Iran or Afganistan. There we added at least 20 more readers to fill out our schedules. These people are fleeing repressive regimes that strictly impose Sharia law. They are hoping to immigrate to Germany, Sweden or another Western European country, but because of the flood of refugees from all over the Middle East, Europe has recently closed their borders, at least for the time being. Now these refugees are stuck here in Greece in a number of refugee camps and especially here in Athens.

 

Unlike Jordan, where the refugee camps are found close to their norther border with Syria, here in Greece, many of the refugees live in camps that are in Athens itself. There is one camp less than a mile from the church where we work (though only one of our readers lives there). They live under much less than ideal conditions and are in a constant state of limbo, nevertheless, we have found them to be generally positive, patient and very polite. Because there is very little work to be found in this economically depressed country, our refugee readers generally don't work, but the Greek govenment supplies them with passes for public transportation, so they have the time and the ability to come to us for conversation practice. Many have limited English skills, but with some effort we can communicate, it just takes longer.

Week 2 (the last) in Amman

Posted by gramma on March 26, 2016 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

As usual our second, and last, week in Amman has flown by. The four of us have accumulated over 240 hours of reading over the last two weeks and we have had some great conversations, but now we have had to say goodbye to our new friends. On Thursday evening we had a party and about 35 attended. We were humbled by the frequent expressions of gratitude that we received. Some brought friends and it was great to see how much fun everyone had. We had a pretty good mixture of christians and muslims, men and women, and we had at least six different nations represented.

 

Although most of our readers chose to use the Luke book for our sessions, several have been using the Beginnings book that surveys important events from the Old Testament. As it turns out almost all the texts from the book have close parallels (if not exact) in the Qu'ran. Thus we are able to focus on what we have in common in our beliefs rather than what separates us. Also the stories from the OT deal with many of the topics that appear in the Luke book, such as the importance of sin and faith and sacrifice.

From Val: I read with a young Muslim man, that on the last day asked me what was my passion. Well at first I had to tell him what Steve's real passion was, that he would do this nearly 52 weeks a year. He wanted to know why we were doing it, really. So I told him. We had been reading together almost every day for two weeks and he knew we were there for more than just English. I told him it was to share what we believe and to learn about them. To create friendships and share with each other. He continued, wanting to know why were we only in Jordan for 2 weeks and other places longer. He did not think we should be concerned about drawing too much attention with what we are doing. He said instead of all those other places we go for 4-6 weeks, we need to be coming to Muslim countries and staying there the longest.

 

From Holly. One of the many interesting readers I had was an enthusiastic, bubbly young woman, working, via an NGO, with Syrian refugees in the largest refugee camp in Jordan (81,000 people). She rides a bus 1 1/2 hours each way daily to serve others in this way. She is from a muslim background, but has Christian friends and non-believing friends. At our first meeting, she looked at the workbooks and asked me why/how we chose these topics. I replied, "Because this is a topic that matters deeply to me and we want to talk about important topics". She gave me a huge smile and told me that she too cared deeply about spiritual matters and was so glad that we were going to do this together. She is struggling to know what she believes about God, and feels pulled by her mother (Islam), by her Christian friends, and by non-believers. Please add this young lady to you prayer list. That God may continue to work in her heart as she seeks to know the truth.

 

We have no idea how many seeds were planted through our efforts, but it was worth it, if nothing else, for the goodwill that our conversations seemed to accomplish. Though our readers' culture, and often religion, differed from ours, we were able listen to one another, share our beliefs as friends without need for agreement, learn from each other and laugh together. It's too bad more such conversations are not taking place in the world.

 

As you read this we are already safely in Athens, Greece. Keep us in your prayers as we meet new friends and have more great conversations over the next four weeks.

Our return to Amman

Posted by gramma on March 20, 2016 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

 

We have completed our first week of a two-week Let's Start Talking project in Amman, Jordan. We are here with Mark and Holly Melton and we have had a very good week of reading. Because Jordan is overwhwlmingly Muslim, for this project we have given our readers the choice of reading our ususl 'Luke' book with texts from the gospel of Luke or a new 'Beginnings' book that contains texts from throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the creation story. Most of the material in the Beginnings book appears in the Qu'ran. About a third of our readers have chosen the Beginnings book.

 

We have a total of about 38 readers and about half are coming every day so we have already logged over 130 hours of reading sessions. When Steve was here last August, a large majority of our readers were women and most were Muslim. This time the overwhelming majority are men and there are only slightly more Muslims as Christians. Most are Jordanian, but we also have Syrian, Sudanese and .....

 

About five or six of Steve's readers are recent university graduates and they have been volunteering with and Jordanian NGO (LoYAC) that helps them develop life skills and encourages community service, especially working with the enormous refugee community (mostly Syrian) here in Jordan. In our conversations I have been impressed with how the Jordanians have been trying to meet the needs of refugees.

 

The four days before we began our project we were blessed to be able travel around the southern part of Jordan, traversing the regions where the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites lived in Bible times. It was through this region that many of the caravans passed on the way to and from Jerusalem and the Arabian penninsula. It is a desert region that looks much like the deserts of the US Southwest. Periodically we came upon the ruins of Crusader castles that attest to the struggle for control of these lands that continue today.

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