Back to the Balkans #togetherweareone

Published Categorized as english

We had an autumn break here in October and decided to drop everything and go back to Osijek, Croatia, with Femke and Laurens. Marijke, Judith and Jelle have visited Osijek a few times since our move four years ago, but for the rest of us, it was the first time back. How good it was! Here is an impression of a week filled with love, coffee, conversations and rakija.

Notice the backpack: Together we are one. It is the slogan from the Salvation Army on the practical backpack that we took along. During the journey, I dove into the story of the Roma and the Holocaust. 330.000 Roma were killed in the camps.

While the war in Israel is unfolding and the wars in Ukraine and other places are continuing, we see healing of the decades of damage in the post-Yugoslavian war area. It is very good to see Osijek in a more positive spirit than before. Young families stay (instead of moving to other parts of the world). The city is full of young energy, and that is good for Osijek.

Sunday: God at work among the Roma

We visited the small Roma church in Darda. It’s been around ten years since we went there for the first time. They are tired of tourists making pictures so I left my phone at home. At our first time, our  translator whispered at the time: “This is remarkable. The pastor has been here just a few weeks and has no experience. He is very shy.” Ten years later, the church and its team have matured. Read more here and here.

Monday: first reflections

A day of connection, pizza and a few reflections:

  1. How good it was to move with the family to this remote place in 2015
  2. What courage we needed to decide that it was time to move back to the Netherlands in 2019 and find a house, the right education for the kids and jobs. With God’s help, we did it.
  3. How good it is to be back now and see God at work in so many different circles and communities.

Tuesday: Blessed are the peacemakers.

“That lady prevented the church from being bombed during the war,” Megan told me. She pointed to a lady in her sixties. It hit me that plain people like you and me can do marvelous things by just taking the right step at the right moment. The church also has a chapter in my book: Natasha, fighter for peace.

My friend (and editor Megan—compliments to her when you see a proper English text appearing on your screen), invited me to the Serbian Orthodox Church in the heart of Donji Grad, where there was liturgy and a celebration and after the service. The home made bread got blessed during the service, and everyone either touched the bread itself or held onto the shoulder of someone who was touching it to receive the peace and blessing. I loved that ritual! After the service was a meal and the priest did his utmost best to fill everyone with rakija and food. It was a lesson in hospitality.

Femke and Laurens stayed the whole week with our friends our music teachers Teodor and Ileana. Many table conversations filled our hearts with gratitude. We played music at the close of the day.

Wednesday: Writers appear

We started the day early and had coffee with a friend and writer Laura. (read Laura’s story!) Her children’s book is out this week! What an achievement.

Osijek lies very close to the border of southwestern Serbia and southern Hungary. We often visited Nori and her husband in Siklos, but they moved. ll that is left are sweet memories. We found this a good reason to see the city of Pecs. Amazing how these neighboring countries do have such different atmospheres. The walls of the cathedral of Pecs were newly decorated. I could not resist taking a few pictures. Don’t you love it?

Thursday: This child will live.

Nina and I spend time together. (I share her story with permission). We held each other, talked and cried and prayed. We celebrated ten years of knowing each other. She told me her story once more—about her mom’s having abortions twice over. The third time, she fiercely refused and said to her husband: This child will live! And that very child is the woman sitting next to me. She is with her team , leading the small Roma church. She has a leading role in Roma Networks on a global level. She married her husband, a former drug addict. How she was barren, but the Lord opened her womb and gave her not only one, but two children. She is a living example of God’s work in miraculous ways. Her mother-in-law is the one who is knitting the socks from Serbia, but that is a different story that I will tell you later.

With Nina

We planted a tree in the front yard of our house in the Jahorinska street (maple leaf). We were so glad to discover that it was still there and growing!

“I saw your bike in town today!” The neighbor told us. We left behind a big part of our belongings when we left, and many of them are still in town. Teddy bears, knitted blankets, bikes and more. The neighbors told us how they had seen us: these crazy folks on their bikes everyday.

Friday: Life in the wilderness

We’re already wrapping up. I had yet another coffee with Lidija. She gave me a local autumn treat with nuts. The workbook is now all over town, and I better provide an online course to go through it this winter. I will. Promise.

It’s time to wrap up this week. We drive to Belgrade, where we will take a plane in the middle of the night.

“Do we have to pay for parking here? ” I asked a passenger in the city of Belgrade.

Oh, yes, you can just park here and do not have to pay. You’re in the wilderness now. Welcome! Where do you come from?

The Netherlands, we’re flying back tonight,” I replied.

Ah, Amsterdam. Awful weather, but great art! You should see St. Petersburg. There’s great art too!” He stops running.

Ah, I love art. Shall I not just wait till the war is over before going to St Petersburg?” I ask him.

No! You can just go there. Putin is great. We’re Orthodox here. Democracy is the end of a good country. Go to St. Petersburg!”

I’ll see. Hvala puno.” (Thanks for the advice). He continues his run, while we climb up the bridge over the impressive Danube.

We have our final meal in the city of Belgrade, with a walk through the park, enjoying the view over the confluence of rivers: Drava and Danube. I take a nap on Jelle’s lap. The night will be short at the airport. The stars are shining over the town. The breeze touches our skin in the dark yet warm October night. Young couples are gathered around two Roma musicians in interesting attire.

In one week, we visited many friends and seven different church communities (or at least some representatives), and I feel very blessed to see God at work. Because Together we are one after all. On Sunday, we visited The Roma church in Darda. On Monday, we had coffee with the local priest from the Reformed Episcopal Church in Osijek and the Bishop from Dallas who just happened to be paying a visit. I joined the Serbian Orthodox Church for a holy day in Osijek on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we visited the cathedral of Pecs, and later that week, I met with friends from the Pentecostal church, sat in our local Protestant Church of the Netherlands, and attended a Catholic International service. 

God is shining his light over all people. We are invited to resemble that light. And we can practice wherever we are. He’ll judge. And just as the woman who was able to prevent the church from being bombed we are invited to do good each and every day.

It is not strange that I feel so connected to the music of Taizé. Frere Roger embodied peace and connection and community. He was a bridge builder, though he had his own theological beliefs.

Laudate Dominum. Let all people glorify our Lord. Amen. 

How was the October month for you? Feel free to let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

(and yes: I am working on plans to host an International Women Retreat here in the Spring of 2024. 24 – 26 May! Let me know if you like to join! You can sign up here!)

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