Cultural Perspectives: United States on Montenegro

The second post in the Cultural Perspectives series is written by Vicki Surbatovich.  Vicki is an inspiration in godly obedience, patience and hospitality.  I have learnt so much and experienced so many great times with Vicki and her family.

Nearly eighteen years ago we moved from sunny Southern California to Montenegro with the desire to bring the gospel, the living Word, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to this land.  We moved to a city with no evangelical church, no known evangelical believers, and no welcoming committee.    From being part of an active, loving, living fellowship, we were abruptly  on our own, a lone Christian family desiring to love and serve the Lord, and we knew we’d  experience both delights and hardships and learn many lessons.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) is to view this life, this ministry, these years from God’s perspective:  Do not despise the day of small beginnings. (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT).  As much as we would love to be able to report that as the Word is being preached faithfully, thousands have come to know the Lord and are being added to the church daily, we can’t: That is not what God is doing at this time and in this place; that is not reality.

This is reality:   After all these years, there are only five registered evangelical churches in the whole country.  When we hold our yearly All-Montenegro Believers meeting, where believers from every church and those believers scattered about the country join together for a day of worship and fellowship, there are fewer than two hundred people gathering.   Think about it:  Fewer than two hundred in the whole country after twenty years of ministry.  Pretty pitiful, at least by man’s standards.

But we do not lose heart, we do not despise the day of small beginnings because the verse continues for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. (Zechariah 4:10b, NLT)

In the beginning, for years, we hosted all the Bible studies and meetings at our house—there was nowhere else to have them.  Now we are able to go from house to house as different families host our mid-week meeting and our Sunday services are held in rented facilities.  Back then, we were the only Christian family (husband, wife, and children) in the fellowship—all others were divorced, widowed, or married to an unbeliever.  Now there are several young families, committed to the Lord, raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Formerly, we were the worship leaders: my husband strummed the guitar and I led the singing—he was the only one who knew how to play and I was the one who knew the songs.  Now our singing is led by gifted, godly worship leaders.  We are blessed beyond our greatest imaginings.

All this is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.  Do not despise the day of small beginnings for this is the day that the Lord has made;  let us rejoice and be glad in it.


Some things I miss

There are 3 things that I miss at the moment:

1. Aleksa – when we were worshiping yesterday evening I had my eyes closed for a couple of minutes.  Then I opened them to check where Aleksa was.  I half expected him to be at my feet with his arms held up waiting for me to pick him up.  I really wanted to give him a cuddle.

2. Anya – I would love to just watch her here.  There is so much for her to learn from the people here and I know she’d be just going around doing her own thing, picking up information and storing it away for when it would be useful.  She’d love the big house we’re in with all it’s nooks and crannies to hide away and I know she’d go down a storm with everyone.

3. Rada – I really miss talking to her.  The internet is not great so Skyping attempts have been really frustrating.  It’s a long way from the 20p a minute phone calls we used to have to settle for just after we met but that thought doesn’t help.  I want to tell Rada all the great things that God is doing and all the details about the people here.  More than that I would love her to meet them all she would love it so much with all the languages and cultures and crazy people.

Ah well, I’m having a wonderful time.  Enjoying it immensly but missing the family.

Survival of the Fittest

Nearly a year ago my little brother asked me if I wanted to do some 10km race with extra obstacles.  It sounded fun and would be good motivation to get fit so I said yes.  That’s what led to me reluctantly joining in the mass warm-up with an over enthusiastic fitness trainer on the start line of the Survival of the Fittest race in Nottingham on Saturday.

Me and Sim over the haybales

It was tough and although I wasn’t terribly unfit I was more sluggish than I wanted to be and my little brother beat me….gutted.  The whole family came out to support us which was simply splendid.  The highlight for me was near the end as I negotiated the final obstacles and there at my side was my dad running alongside me cheering me on giving me a big hug at the end.  It was a real flashback to the old race walking and cross country days and his enthusiasm and affection were really meaningful.  Thanks dad, and the rest of the family for a great day out.  I’ll get you next year Sim!

10 reasons to love Montenegro

1. Mountains.  They climb up to 2500m, they pour down straight into the sea, they deliver spectacular views as you drive through them and even when you’re walking in town everytime you lift you’re eyes they’re there in front of you.

2. Hardly anybody speaks English. This gives such an authentic experience of a country.  If you’re going to make the most of Montenegro you have to get stuck in, make some embarrassing mistakes (one Easter whilst tring to decline an egg I managed to say something along the lines of my balls don’t work!) but it really helps you understand the people and culture.

3. Sexism.  I am prohibited from doing the washing up (due to gender).

4. Children run.  I really think we don’t see enough children running around freely in the UK.  Few things give me more enjoyment than seeing little children run just for fun.  In Montenegro you come across a lot more kids playing in the street and they do a lot more training for competetive sports.  Rada’s niece is only 10 years old and training four or five times a week for basketball.  I went to watch a couple of days ago and some of the lads there can seriously shoot some hoops!

5. Rambo Amadeus. Check this out for a quality Eurovision entry from Rambo Amadeus this year!  Come on UK lets get behind Montenegro when it’s time for the voting later in the year 🙂  The lyrics are in English you just have to listen carefully.

6. Wood smoke.  Whenever I catch the aroma of wood smoke in England I can close my eyes and feel like I am taken straight back to Montenegro.  Almost everyone burns wood for heating and cooking and I love the smell as you walk the streets.

7. Strong communities and families.  I am sure there are other countries who have equally strong communities and families but I have never personally experienced it like I do in Montenegro.  I love getting involved in and witnessing the little things – calling cousin to pick us up in his taxi, shovelling dung for the communal vegetable patch, helping Ujak (uncle from mother’s side) unload breeze blocks from the lorry for his house he’s building himself.

8.  Food and drink.  I am fed and watered ridiculously well in Montenegro.  Every visit is accompanied with choice of drink (beer or rakija are the expected options for men) followed by a great spread or main meal.  Montenegrins are so hospitable!

9. Soaps.  The soap operas shown in Montenegro are hilarious.  Usually courtesy of Turkey, Mexico or India each one is guaranteed to have someone in a coma, an over the top wedding, a kidnapping and emotive orchestra music.  I don’t understand most of what goes on but that just makes them even funnier to watch.

10. Finally, a very personal reason – Montenegro is where I met my wife so all over the place I find great memories rekindled of those first weeks together and many memorable visits since then.

British Christmas Day

Rada’s parent’s kindly donated one of their turkeys to help us celebrate 25th December British style.  It didn’t feel too much at all like a normal Christmas but the turkey helped and I made stuffing for the first time – a very commendable apple and sausage effort.  The turkey weighed a whopping 12kg (that’s over 25 lbs!) so we only cooked half of it and even then there was tonnes left over.

The best bit was having Rada’s family round for the Christmas dinner.  Here’s a few pictures if you’re interested.

Homesick at Christmas

To be honest I had barely missed the UK for the first two months in Montenegro.  There are a some people I had affectionate thoughts of and it’s frustrating not being able to watch Match of the Day.  But apart from that I was very satisfied being in Montenegro.

But I must admit Christmas time has hit a bit hard.  It hurts to think of friends and family gathering without you.  It’s nice to catch up on facebook but it also reminds you of what you’re missing.

Below you can listen to Coles Corner by Richard Hawley.  The video comes across a bit cheap but the music and lyrics resonate with feelings of loneliness in a way that lifts the soul.  Coles Corner was a traditional meeting point for Sheffield people.  It was before my time but I must have spent hours just down from Coles Corner waiting for buses and friends and watching the world go by.  Would love to spend just 10 minutes there now….


Home, work, work, home

What’s it like to be an immigrant?  Must be dead tough.  I am living in a foreign country right now but I don’t want to lay any claim to truly be experiencing the life of an immigrant.  I have a wife and friends who can translate every word for me.  I am being generously supported by family and friends so that I am able to get on with the work with the church here.  I have a good life here.

But what about an economic migrant or an asylum seeker?  You don’t speak or read the language but then you get something through the post that looks vaguely like a bill.  What do you do?  You can’t ask anyone because they won’t understand you.

And then you’re trying to earn money to survive in a strange land.  This is a cult video by Montenegrin Ekrem Jevric who is based in New York.  A very funny video but serious lyrics.  “Work, home, home, work”.  The life of an immigrant. “Hey New York darkness loom all over you.”  And then the discrimination – treated like a second class citizen.  “What do I know?  I don’t know anything, how could I?”  Spare a thought…