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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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A blessed last week in Amman

Posted by gramma on September 12, 2015 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

We finished our LST project with over 230 hours of reading with nearly 40 different people. We had about 15 who were coming every day and frequently telling us how much they enjoyed our conversations. They got to practice English, but many also were captured by what we were reading from the gospel of Luke. One commented '...this Jesus, he is different from what we know.'

 

Our last week included a dust storm, a seldom but not too uncommon gift from Saudi Arabia leaving a layer of dust everywhere. On Tuesday it was really thick, yielding a gag response from me when I would first step out into it. Nevertheless, most of our readers braved the elements and showed up for their sessions. One played nine holes of golf and then came to our lesson, but she did notice that no one else was out there on the links with her group.

 

The last week of reading was a good one, with many of our Muslim readers asking more questions aboout christianity and sharing their faith in Islam. They often pointed out how the Qur'an contains passages that mirror what we were reading from Luke, sometimes nearly verbatim, other times with differences. One reader, upon reading the second greatest command: 'Love your neighbor as you would yourself', said in the Qur'an it reads 'Love your brother as you would yourself', meaning fellow muslims. But then he pointed out that in another place the Qur'an said that we are to love everyone, just not as we love ourselves.

 

On Thursday evening we had a party, with about 35 in attendance. Everyone seemed to have a good time. It was a mix of both religions and cultures. Christians, muslims and Jordanians, Indians, Yemeni and Koreans. Throughout the project it was obvious that it was easy for us to sit down and have meaningful conversations about our diverse beliefs as friends, laughing, sharing and just getting along, in stark contrast to the turmoil surrounding Jordan in the Middle East. This atmosphere of friendship could not have been better exhibited than when we witnessed a 7-year old Jordanian muslim boy put his arm around a christian Indian boy of the same age, whom he had just met, and walk across the room seeking to fill more squares on their People Bingo sheets.

 

I am already back at home in Santa Barbara after a safe, but long trip home on Friday. Please keep all our readers in your prayers, that the seeds that have been planted may grow, no matter what kind of soil they reached.

 

Another great week in Amman

Posted by gramma on September 6, 2015 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (1)

Our second week in Amman has been even better than the first. We have now logged almost 175 hours reading from the gospel of Luke with our readers since we arrived. We have a good time with them and there is lots of laughing. Those of our readers who follow Islam have very different worldviews but it does not hinder us from sharing ideas. More than one has told me that they respect what I believe and what is in the Bible but they don't beleive the same; however, our divergent views don't stop us from continuing reading through the Word.

 

One of my young university coeds came one day and told me I was 'a great man'. When my swollen head returned to its normal size, I asked why she thought that. She said she just loved our conversations and what I had to say and that she always looked forward to coming. Best project ever!!! Honestly, usually readers spend most of their time answering questions that I ask, but this time about five or six are regularly asking probing questions, wanting to know more about Jesus and christianity. Even 9-hour days are fun.

 

On the negative side, two sisters abruptly quit coming this week. One of them (pretty much my favorite reader) loved our conversations sessions and I loved it when her large eyes would flash with surprise or delight at what we were discussing. The day before she quit she told me our conversations had only served to cement her faith in the Qur'an and Allah, which wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear but I was glad at least that she was willing to share it. A friend of hers (who comes every day) suspected that her father was behind her dropping out, which I imagine is true because she seemed to loved LST and our conversations.

 

On Friday, our day off, we went to Jerash, an ancient Roman city not far from Amman. It dates back to before Christ but came into prominence in the latter half of the first century when it was on the trade route between Damascus and Jerusalem. It has what seems like a 1000 columns still standing, and eager guides will show how you can make them sway because they were designed to resist earthquakes?

 

We have one week left, please pray that our sessions continue to elicit questions, facilitate learning on both sides and spark a few laughs as well. Also pray for our party we will hold on Thursday night (that will be about 8am in CA). More next week.

Our first week in Amman; better late than never

Posted by gramma on August 30, 2015 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (2)

After postponing our LST project to Jordan in March, I (Steve) was blessed to return to Amman last Sunday. Val is in Massachusetts at a felting workshop that has been on the schedule since early January. I am here along with Dan and Linda Wiese from Topeka, Kansas. We will be here in Jordan almost three weeks in total and once again we are working with the Books & More library here, directed by Harvey and Nancy Bacus. They have put in a lot of work in getting us started and supporting us while we are here, including conducting the information meeting to start the project.

 

We have about 40 readers between the three of us and after four days we have already logged over 70 hours of reading sessions. The first day Linda had seven university girls during one hour-long session. Our readers are mostly from Jordan, though we have a contingent from Yemen, several from Korea as well as others from Syria and India. This year the overwhelming majority of our readers are muslim and many are university students. We have many fewer christian readers this year and a number of those are not very strong in their faith.

 

Thursday was one of the best days of reading I have ever had. Three of my readers, all women, one of whom atteands a christian church but struggles to believe, and two who are muslim, asked many probing questions. None of them shied away from disagreeing with what we are reading or with me, but all also listened intently to what I had to say. It was hard to stay on lessons but our discussions were fun and informative for me and I hope for them. One stayed for two hours but it seemed like fifteen minutes. I learned a lot about Islam and I think she learned some about Jesus and his followers as well.

 

We are only taking Fridays off for the three weeks we are here. This Friday we took a tour around Western Jordan that included visits to the site where Jesus was purported to have been baptised. One must take such things with a grain of salt, but maybe... The other site was Mt Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land just before he died. It is truly a magnificent location to overlook the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and, on a clearer day than we had, Jerusalem itself.

 

Please, continue to remember us in your prayers and also remember this country, which represents the safest place in the Middle East, and one that has come to be the home of millions of refuges due to all the unrest in this region.

 

Our last week in Timisoara

Posted by gramma on March 29, 2015 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Our last week of reading has drawn to a close. It was a very good week with over 70 hours in reading sessions. Over the four weeks our readers logged about 275 hours between Raymond and Darlene, Jamie, Steve and Val. As often is the case we even had a new reader join us this last week, a medical student, who only just saw the poster on his campus last Monday. Never too late to plant a seed.

 

Last week also saw one of our readers who had disappeared return briefly and then disappear again. He had lost both of his parents by age 16 and then spent three years in an orphanage. He came with a very dark view of life and rejected the idea of Jesus though he said he believed in God. He asked, 'Where can I find hope in my life?' He expressed doubt that he would ever believe and then failed to come to two appointments the following week. When he returned last week unannounced (at a time when another reader 'just happened' to have called to cancel) he said he had been thinking about our conversations and though he was not yet able to believe, maybe he was ready to accept. He did not return again. We pray the seed continues to grow.

 

Steve's four weeks here has seen Timisoara move from grey winter with leafless trees to Spring bursting forth. This last week many of the trees have sprouted blooms almost overnight. As we walked along a nearby street to drop off laundry, none of us paid attention to the bare trees that lined the sidewalk, but when we picked up the laundry two days later, those trees were full of lovely pink blooms. The weather for our last day in Timisoar was more like winter weather, but the signs of Spring were unmistakable as Val and I visited the Village Museum with Melinda. Jamie elected to stay home nursing a bad cold. Pray she gets over it so she can enjoy a few days in London with her husband, Patrick. Val and I travel to Hamburg, Germany tomorrow for a couple of weeks visiting our dear friends, Jo and Marion and also worshipping with the body here and seeing some of the people we read with over the past two years.

 

May some of the seeds we have planted one day bring beautiful blooms as we are seeing today.

 

 

The third week is over

Posted by gramma on March 22, 2015 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The changing of the guard happened this last week, with Val and Jamie taking on Darlene and Raymond's readers, respectively. Most of the readers continued on seamlessly and in spite of sickness and busy schedules that caused several cancellations, we completed 64 hours of sessions this week. Several readers come almost every day, but our 'morning'(10am-2pm) hours continue to be least appreciated. On the other hand, we frequently have no openings in our (4pm-9pm) block of times.

 

We have been very impressed with the level of English of our readers here. Many of the younger people have studied English since first grade. Steve has an 11 year-old fifth-grader who began studying German in first grade as well AND most of her classes are in German! And some other classes in her school learn in French and a few other languages. Her school is a regular public school. Impressive.

 

Furthermore, most of our readers were exposed to religion classes in their schools. I believe these were generally conducted under the oversight of the Romanian Orthodox church, and the result is that most have familiarity with many of the stories that we read or refer to in our conversations. However, most have never really thought very deeply about the meaning of the stories or how this might apply to their lives. For most the church, or even God, is not a big part of their lives and they are still struggling with their faith.

 

Romania is a member of the European Union, though not yet part of the Euro-zone. Consequently there are many businesses here from Western Europe. There are at least four different German grocery chains here that we have recognized. As a result, German is also a language that is in demand. Our church hosts, Bogdan and Melinda, are studying German in the evenings and they would like to do a German version of Let's Start Talking at the church here.

 

Yesterday was one of our two days off in this last two weeks so we drove over into Transylvania. We visited a fortress in the city of Deva, a Gothic castle in Hunedoara and an ancient colony that dates back to about the third century, A.D. It was a beautiful day and we got to see the more mountainous parts of Romania.

 

Today was our last Sunday here in Timisoara. Steve preached his last sermon and we had our last party. There were 16 at our 'Arts' party. We sculpted with Pla-Doh, wrote Cinquain poems and drew in a game of telephone-pictionary.

 

Next week is our last week here. Please pray that we will have full schedules.

Our second week in Timisoara and the changing of the guard

Posted by gramma on March 15, 2015 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Week 2 in Timisoara has flown by. We logged 77 hours with our readers this week. It's hard to believe, but Raymond and Darlene have already headed back to Texas, and Val and Jamie arrived here Saturday (about which I am very glad). It took three trips to the airport to send off and welcome every one. Sunday is our second party and Val and Jamie have full schedules lined up for them on Monday. There is going to be no moss growing here!

 

With every week we move further into the gospel of Luke and our conversations become deeper. Some of our readers have little or no faith, some just don't know what they believe about God and some have a deep faith. Most are from the Romanian Orthodox church, though several have a Catholic background. A number of our readers are quite familiar with many of the stories we are reading because they have religion courses in their schools. Some are students, we have two studying geography, some work in IT, some are engineers, one has a bicycle shop and one has a degree in animal husbandry and oversees the raising of thousands of pigs and his pay depends on the pig weight/feed weight ratio!

 

Nicolai, the preacher for the church that is hosting us here in Timisoara, comes by to visit every morning. Over coffee, he has told us how he had a desire to learn English long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he studied everything he could get his hands on, then one day he saw an advertisement for correspondence courses to improve your English while studying the Bible. He responded to the ad and became enrolled in World Englsh Institute. His lessons came from a lady in Springfield, MO and by around 1992, when asked if he wanted to be baptized, he responded 'Yes, but you are in Missouri and I am in Romania, how does that work?' She put him in contact with a American missionary in Bucharest and soon after both he and his wife, Rodica, began a new life in Christ. Nicolai readily acknowledges that 'his' idea to learn English was not really his at all.

 

They began hosting a house church in their home, then they rented spaces in the town, and not long afterward, with the help of a church in the US, a building was puchased. Now 20 years later they have about 40-50 worshipping here every week and a small campus has grown up around the church building. By hosting LST teams they are hoping to continue to grow.

 

Pray that the transition from Raymond and Darlene to Jamie and Val goes smoothly and that we don't get in the way of God's teaching of our readers.

Steve's first week in Timisoara, Romania

Posted by gramma on March 9, 2015 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

After a change of destination from a second visit to Jordan, where turmoil in the region made it inadvisable to attempt another LST project for the time being, Steve finds himself in Timisoara, Romania along with Raymond and Darlene Ward from Fort Worth, TX. Raymond and Darlene are both retired, Raymond was in the publishing business and Darlene was a teacher and they both did a Let's Start Talking project in Qingdao, China last year.

 

We have finished our first week here and we completed 61 hours of reading. This is a somewhat complex project in that Raymond and Darlene will stay a total of two weeks and then pass the baton to Val and our friend Jamie Sweeney, from Tulsa, OK, to finish the last two weeks of the project along with Steve.

 

You probably don't know, I certainly didn't, that Timisoara is where the Romanian Revolution of 1989 began. This revolution contributed the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union and its sattelite nations. Timisoara is a city of about 300,000 people and home of two major universities. It is a beautiful city, many parts of which are under renovation to make it even more beautiful.

 

We have over 35 readers between the three of us, some of whom are coming almost every day so are schedules, especially in the evening, are full. The church with whom we are working used Facebook to advertise the program and it was very successful. Most of the readers are younger, Steve even has a couple of fifth graders, and w,omen outnumber the men by quite a few. In general the level of English is quite good so our conversations as we discuss the Book of Luke are very good. Most of our readers belong to the Romanian Orthodox church.

 

We are living and reading on the grounds of the church that invited us here and the accommodations are quite comfortable. They have several housing units and a rooms where we can read. We begin reading at 10am and break for lunch at 2pm, then we start again at 4pm and read until 9. The morning hours are not yet very full but the evening hours are typically very full. We are working Monday through Friday and on Sunday afternoon we have parties.

 

Our first party was small but very good. There were 16 including us, and about six people from the church, some of whom are readers themselves. There was great interaction between our readers and those from the church, which is the reason for the parties.

 

Please keep us and our readers in your prayers this next week, the final week for Raymond and Darlene.


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