Avala – a Forgotten Refugee Camp

On Friday afternoon, we were in a refugee camp that nestles in the hills outside of Belgrade.  The surroundings are beautiful and many tourists drive past the turning that leads to the former psychiatric hospital without knowing about the refugees who shelter here eleven years after they fled their homes in the wake of the NATO campaign.

Hailing from the same district, many former neighbours now cramp into small “rooms” – actually “cells” for psychiatric patients.

Despite Western government promises that the unintended consequences of the NATO campaign would be mitigated through aid and reconstruction projects, these refugees remain forgotten.

Some of the children don’t remember “home”.  Their lives have only been in this building yet they hear many stories of the farms and space their families used to enjoy.

Yet it was wonderful to hear some of the children speak of the highlight of their year: a camp organised especially for them by Darko and Lidija – graduates of the Bible School.  A week in the countryside with planned activities, great company and refreshing Bible teaching…

We’ve given out much aid here: each packet carefully into the hands of the families who use it, and signed for by a representative of each family.  Despite torrential rain, it has been a bright afternoon of friendship shared…

As with every place we go, we share again the message of God who loves, each person, whatever nation they are from – a God who has gone so far as to send Jesus Christ to die to bring us into relationship with Him…

Thank you for continuing to “travel” and pray with us as you follow this blog… some of these most recent posts have arrived with a bit of a delay due to the challenge of connecting to the internet…

Next we leave Belgrade and head for Nis in Southern Serbia, from where we will travel almost to the border of Macedonia to deliver aid to more refugee camps like this one.

Starcevo

Starcevo is a small town on the edge of Pancevo which itself is a large industrial satelite town of Belgrade.  On the edge of Starcevo, in the shadow of an oil refinery are the “barracks” where tens of families live in very poor conditions…

This morning we played football, told stories, painted faces, played with balloons, and made music with these families. It has been a precious time as these friendships stretch back over 13 years.

Even today, people still speak of the bombing of 1999 that brought this area to its knees – thick black clouds billowing up from the oil refinery and chemical factories: spilling pollutants, searing the air and leaving a legacy of broken ecology and ill health that will linger for generations. As well as struggling with their poverty, the families of Starcevo have to cope with these health challenges.

Yet you could not meet a more vibrant, generous and welcoming group of people – the “barracks” have been filled with laughter and great conversation through the morning…

Arriving in Banja Luka, Serbian Bosnia.

We have travelled through five countries today to finally reach the Bosnian Serb capital – Banja Luka. This is a vibrant city full of tree-lined boulevards and buzzing cafes.

We were warmly received on the border by officials who were delighted that such a large and enthusiastic delegation were coming to Banja Luka. They were fascinated by everyone’s insistence that they also receive a stamp in their passport – something locals try to avoid to save using up precious space in their documents. “My arm is killing me” exclaimed the border guard as he returned to the office where I was speaking with his colleague. “I can’t believe that all 76 of them made me stamp their papers.”

The journey from Otford to Bosnia took 36 hours including stops and our arrival has been met with warm hospitality and torrential rain.

Our camp is now set and the tents bravely hold off the water. Even this great soaking is not dampening the spirits of a n incredible group who are ready for anything.

After a hot meal and a song we read from Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to His people. The Lord blesses His people with peace.” May this be your experience too, wherever you read this.

As I close, the city is plunged into darkness as another of the frequent powercuts hit. Thank you for “travelling” with us as you follow this blog.

Oak Hall in Zagreb

This afternoon, after traversing Austria and Slovenia, we crossed the border into Croatia. We drove directly to the capital Zagreb where we are now exploring ancient alleyways and open squares. It’s a bank holiday in the city today giving it an air of relaxed festivity.

The central monument in the city’s central square is to Ban Josip Jelcic – the leader of the country’s uprising against the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Here we all are in front of the monument.

Journeying through Europe

It’s been a great day of getting to know each other as we have travelled across Europe. A coach filled with conversation, laughter and music punctuated by the famous Oak Hall hot chocolates…

Here are three of those on the coach:

This is Jillian who today begins her tenth journey with us to Serbia:

“For me, my trips to the Balkans with Oak Hall have truly transformed my life and drawn me closer to God. It’s difficult not to return bringing others so they too can have this experience!”

At the bottom of the coach stairs, Paul & Sara practice introducing each other in Serbian,

“Zdravo, ovo je moja supruga, Sara” – “Hello, this is my wife Sara”

“Ja sam iz juzne Amerike iz Peru-a” – “I am from South America, from Peru.”

Their accents sound excellent!

Paul: “This is something different. Not just ‘a holiday’. We pray that we will be a blessing to those we meet here. We want to return to let others know about the things we will see.”

The lights are off in the coach now. It’s surprising how well you can sleep on one of these massive Oak Hall machines!

Good night from us all!

YU66 Heads Towards the Balkans

This morning, with team coming from all over the UK, and Eire and as far afield as New Zealand and South Korea, the Oak Hall coach is on her way towards the Balkans.

79 of us are aboard our 18m long “home” for the next ten days.

Already there is a wonderful atmosphere as we pray for a time of God working in our own lives, His using us, an insight into the situation of the Church in this region and a time of God preparing us to serve Him more effectively when we return to our homes.

We are all very pleased that you, as you follow this blog, are a part of this journey too.

Drago and Jaroslava – Graduates of the Belgrade Bible School, now church planting…

Since graduating for the Bible School in Belgrade, Drago and Jaroslava have been planting a church in their town.  They are supported primarily by their sister church in the next town about seven miles away but also through Oak Hall in Serbia.

 

“Hello! 

We are very glad that we can share with you what is happening as we work on church-planting in our town of Ruma.

We consider it a big privilege, to be a part of what the Lord is doing here.  Our desire is for all of us to be encouraged as we look at how Jesus Christ builds His church.”

A Story of one of the first to turn to Christ in our town…

My name is Nikola, and I am 72 years old. I am from Ruma. My mother and my parents in law used to go to church, but her and I didn’t. All of my life I wanted to turn to God but I kept putting the decision aside. And since I hadn’t made that decision, I gave in to the sinful life. When I grew old I couldn’t believe that God would forgive me the years of sinful life. In the beginning of 2009 I became seriously ill and spent two months in the hospital. The doctors weren’t optimistic regarding my recovery. Since my relatives were attending a church, the church regularly  prayed for my salvation and physical recovery. While I was in the hospital the leader of the Church visited me and prayed for me. After several such visits and confession I felt God was calling me to pray and give Him my whole life. After this prayer everything became different. I felt immensely relieved and felt God’s care and forgiveness. Shortly afterwards my health became better and I came home. Through everything I had exsperienced I realised that the Lord Jesus Christ cared form my life and that it wasn’t the end. Six month later I decided to be baptized and become a member of the Church. I live my life in a completely different way, now. I enjoy going to church on Sundays and listening the Word of God that teaches, shapes and changes me. I am grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiving me the 72 years of my sinful life.

Jaroslava teaching children in Ruma

Before Drago and Jaroslava were married, Jaroslava worked for a number of years with Romi children in central Serbia with the excellent team of “Dete i Svet”.  Now based in Ruma, a large element of her work is with children from some of the poorer communities around her.  At a recent Christmas programme, 1000 attended an event they ran in the local sports stadium where they heard the Message of Jesus clearly shared…

Here in this photograph she is running one of the classes for these children.

Vision and the plans for the coming period:

  • Strengthening the church and building up the believers
  • Actively sharing the Message of Jesus in Ruma
  • Looking for a bigger meeting place for the church

Darko and Lidija: Visiting Refugees from Kosovo on Jan 8th 2010

“We are thankful for your prayers…

“With good weather we were able to meet outside. Some children from Nis shared an excellent Christmas programme which the refugees enthusiastically followed. We shared about the wonderful Name of Jesus Christ our Saviour explaining that we can’t celebrate a birthday (Christmas!) without the presence of the One whose birthday we are celebrating!

“All of the children received Samaritan’s Purse Christmas packets from children in England. They were very happy as they don’t often receive games and toys.

“We thank God for each one of you who pray with us that God would be honoured here!”