Goodbye Nis!

After an evening of playing football with some of Nis’ welcoming and generous teenagers, we slept a last short, sweet night in our Oak Hall tents.

At 5:30, the “wakeup committee” launched us into a speedy packdown. With warm goodbyes and prayer we left our friends from the city…

We’re now on the road – cutting through the 41 hour journey before us. The coach is filled with great company, music, some newly invented games and much to talk about…

Right now we are approaching Belgrade…

Here is a photo of some of our new friends from Nis – “Come back soon!” – their parting words. We’d love to.

“Somebody knows we are here…”

“You came back. You said you would.”
– Milos

“By coming all this way across Europe, you make us feel like we exist – somebody knows we are here”
– Mira as we left this afternoon.

“We had to leave Kosovo in 1999. We were put in a city sports hall to live. In 2002 we moved here to these temporary houses. We are still here but hope to have homes soon…”
– Dragana, 13 years old and addressing all of us with poise and maturity – she has lived as a refugee since she was 2.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
– Romans 5:8 – the verse we read and thought over together as we stood in front of the refugee homes.

“Your faithfulness surrounds my soul and Your mercy lifts my head… Hallelujah to the King of Grace.”
– Anna singing a Paul Oakley song to all 150 of us.

An unfinished primary school filled with refugees.

The primary school building was left half-built after the refugees were assigned there. The windows were left uninstalled and the road remained a mud track.

Refugees from this camp are slowly assimilating into the surrounding society but still around 75 call this building “home for now”. There are windows now but not much else had changed – cardboard partitions and unfinished plumbing.

Having walked across the fields we reached the camp…

Here are Neil and Jackie painting a child’s face…

The motel camp

We’re now leaving the motel camp following a generous and warm welcome from our friends here.

“Thank you for the aid supplies and thank you for your friendship. But it’s your friendship that means the most to us…”

We’ve all been drinking Turkish coffee in the small rooms that are now “home”.

Some of these refugees fled from Croatia in the early nineties and were resettled in Kosovo only to be “ethnically cleansed” a second time… It is hard to comprehend the heartbreak they have suffered.

Below are photos of the aid being distributed – always slowly, personally,with a smile and a signature.

Fitting reading glasses and delivering aid a the brick factory camp

We are at our the point furthest south that we will reach on this epic journey.

Here at this camp our two opticians are fitting reading glasses while the rest of us deliver the aid we have brought and chat with these people who have been through so much.

“Your visit means so much to us!” calls one of the women…

Darko – a graduate of the Bible college continues to spend a lot of time each month with these refugees and a number of the children will be coming away on holidays he and others in CEF have organised for them.

Visiting four refugee camps…

We are on the road and driving out of the centre Nis. Our sites are set on Bujanovac – a town squeezed against the eastern border of Kosovo. Eleven years ago, Bujanovac was to be the temporary solution for the refugees fleeing Kosovo. Yet in 2010 they are still here.

We will visit four camps. The first is made in the temporary huts for the workers of a now closed brick factory, the second in an abandoned and unfinished school bulding, the third an obsolete motel and the last temporary wooden homes.

These refugees have become our friends over the course of earlier visits using vans and smaller vehicles. They are looking forward to more of us coming together and are amazed that we should have come overland a total of 2500 kms to reach them.

Through the day I will try to send short bursts of news of what is happning.

Greetings from all on this coach.

Sunday in Nis

It’s been a differently-paced day: a “Sunday-pace” here in Nis… time to be with local people, hear their stories, explore some of the rich history here…

We travelled to Niska Banja – famous for its radon-infused hot springs – some dipped in their feet, the most courageous swam…  We wondered whether any of the group would glow after this exposure!

Using a hotel conference room lent to us for an hour by a friend in Niska Banja we heard more from Darko and Lidija about the strategic work that they do as directors of the work of CEF here in Serbia.  This summer they plan five camps for children as well as a month-long “institute” for those who are training to work with children…

“There are many needs in Serbia – what we need is trained workers here.  Please pray for this!”

In the afternoon we explored the city of Nis and in the evening returned to our makeshift camp at the school… again many local residents joined us – first for a meeting in the sports hall, then for hot chocolate and some games of basket ball.

For the last hour of the evening, we have been working to prepare packages for the four refugee camps that we ambitiously plan to visit tomorrow.

It’s going to be a massive day – we hope to be on the road at 8:30am and we will return around 9 in the evening having driven around 300 kms on small roads down through the corridor between Kosovo and Bulgaria.  Although we have visited these camps before, we have never taken an Oak Hall coach this far south.

There are hundreds of people in these camps – again forgotten by most of the population as well as by the international community.

We will try to keep you posted as tomorrow unfolds – greetings from us all!

Arriving in Nis…

Tonight we have arrived in Nis, south Serbia.

Greeted first by passing 90 year old “Grandad Milutin” as we clambered out of our Oak Hall coach, and then by many curious about their new “neighbours” we have been made to feel very welcome.

Later, having set up our makeshift campsite in the grounds of a city school, around thirty local teenagers joined us for our evening meeting.  Reading on through Mark we saw that if a person longs to be cleaned, it is Jesus Christ who can meet that need…  We have talked long into the night over Oak Hall hot chocolates…

Now for bed.

Leaving the Bible School and heading to a hidden Romany Village

After warm farewells, this Saturday morning, we left Belgrade and “comfort” of the Bible School to travel into the centre of Belgrade.  Rather than visiting the “standard” tourist sights, we met Dragan – a Rom from the central city of Arandjelovac.

As we drove together, he told us how in 1999, aware of a personal need for forgiveness and aware of his own vulunerability magnified by the bombing, he found refuge in a friend’s house.  These friends walk with Jesus and through what they shared, Dragan and his wife committed their lives into the hands of Lord Jesus Christ.

Since then, Dragan and Danijela have been joyfully sharing about what God has done in their lives with others from Romany communities across Serbia.

Romany people are viewed as outcasts in this society.  They often live in makeshift homes made out of nothing more than reclaimed junk.  A living made by recycling rubbish they pull out of containers, ignored and often despised by the rest of the population – this is not an easy existence.  The Romany people have their own language and trace their ancestory back to North India – both their colouring and their language carry hints of the Indian culture.

This morning, Dragan brought us to a makeshift settlement where he and Danijela have been working for a number of years.  The welcome we received was immense with drinks, smiles and laughter.

Those in the settlement were very keen to sing to us new songs that they have written about their new found faith in Jesus Christ – “the One whom their hearts longed” as one song explained.

I think for some of us, this has been one of the most moving visits so far.  It has put on many of our hearts a keenness to find ways we can help the Romany community in Serbia and across this region, it has deepened our respect for this people group.  It has also given us an insight into the amazing work that Dragan and Danijela are doing.  Most of all it has shown us the dignity, vibrancy and life that comes to a person, a family, a community as they trust their lives into the hands of Jesus Christ.

We drive on now towards Nis…

25/08/10 – The Story Continues…

It’s two months since our coach left the Romany settlement here in the centre of Belgrade…

Wonderful things continued to happen the day that we visited…  One of the men who is a “patriarch” of this community that day realised his own need for a saviour and trusted his life into the hands of Jesus Christ – the One who has died personally for him…  This will have a great impact on this community.

Dragan, Danijela and Nesa delightedly shared this news with us by text as we drove south…  We praise God with them.

A “Chance” Meeting on the Motorway – a Family Takes a Massive Step of Faith.

Driving down the main highway between Belgrade and Nis, we suddenly see a figure standing in the hard shoulder.  He’s waving his arms as though trying to land a helicopter.  As the bus flies pass, we catch a glimpse of the face of Jovica – graduate of the Bible School.

Moments later, his car is beside us and he signals through the window.  We agree to pull over at the next service station…

Standing on the verge beside the coach, all of us listen as he is translated through the coach microphone.  Kaca – his wife – stands beside him along with their children.  We are amazed to hear that this is the day his family, after a lifetime of living in the relative comfort of the North, are taking the massive step of moving to the spiritually barren South to help to plant a church.

Jovica and Kaca – several years earlier – studied for a year at the Bible College.  The course takes students through the whole of the Bible in a year and is very practical – our prayer is that through it, men and women will grow in their knowledge of God and be prepared by Him to reach their communities.  (Read more about it at on the links at the top of the pages…)

With deep emotion, Jovica and his family listen to our prayers for them all.  Jovica, Kaca and the children seem deeply encouraged that God should arrange for this meeting.  It is the one day that an Oak Hall coach is travelling down this road – it coincides with the one most momentous day that this family ventures to take this massive step of faith…

“God arranged this!” 

As we drive on, we acknowledge God’s hand on this meeting – and our responsibility to pray for them…