It’s my last day in Montenegro today and it’s a scorcher. I was just at Stan’s house printing off my last sermon for tonight and the hotel reservations for the journey home – then I had the privilege of walking home. There is only one thing I enjoy more than driving in Montenegro, and that is walking in Montenegro. The sun was out, the temperature high and everybody out and about. Kids playing in the fields, adults drinking and talking on verandas, and me walking the streets of my second home.
I am ready to return to England but I know in a few weeks I’ll be yearning for Montenegro again. England seems a bit like a dream. I can’t quite remember what it’s like – a bit like in the middle of winter when you can’t imagine what it’s like to be able to wear a t-shirt outside.
For those I’ll be leaving behind, thanks for a great welcome and a wonderful experience. Take care of yourselves, keep in touch and I’ll see you soon.
And everybody in England – I’ll see you soon!
Monday was an exhausting day. We got up at 5.30am to take Rada’s dad to the hospital in Podgorica. It was all a bit confusing but he’d been told to get there early to begin the preparation for his double heart bypass. Alas, we waited around for nearly an hour before they told him they’d call him to come in on 3rd or 4th February. It is such a mess. I can’t imagine psyching myself up for major heart surgery only to be told in the hospital what could have been told over the phone. Anyway, it means there is a possibility Rada will stay a bit longer to be there when he has the surgery. Anya and myself will definitely return the week beginning 7th February so that Anya can get back to school.
Monday evening was another trip to Podgorica but this time for a much more pleasant reason. It was Rada’s birthday and I’d organised a surprise meal out for us with some of her friends. Rada was over the moon and it made me so happy to see her happy. We even managed to get the private VIP part of the restaurant and had a great evening. We arrived back in Niksic really late but really happy.
Out for Rada's birthday
Montenegro is a wonderful country. There are frustrations to living here but it really is a great country to live in. Culturally it is like the country breathes life into me – the music, the food, the people, the conversation. The scenery is constantly remarkable – I don’t think you can be anywhere in Montenegro where, if you lift you eyes up, your breath is not taken away. There are mountains everywhere, at the moment they are snowtipped and at each time of day they cast a slightly different awe-inspiring mood over the landscape.
The people here are just lovely. Ever since I first came nearly ten years ago I have been welcomed with open arms in almost every context I have been in and of course it is not that I am special. Although there is certainly a collective reticence to strangers and foreigners, once they have met you, people are warm to everyone.
Just over three weeks left. I feel like I am ready to come home, but it is going to be a wrench.
Seems like I’ve been dead busy for weeks now. My creative juices run weakly, energy is low and social opportunities abound. This all leads to a lack of thoughtful blogging. So I’ll just give you a quick summary of what has been going on.
Norwegian and British Christmas came and went, then there was the task of distributing 4000 Christmas Boxes donated through Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan’s Purse from the UK. It is a different perspective to see the issues surrounding getting them to the children who would enjoy them the most. The project was headed up here by student worker Danijel who worked tirelessly amidst politics and harassment to get the packages out – all Rada and I really did was take two car loads of shoe boxes to Rada’s dad’s old school up in the village. What an incredible experience and warm reception! They treated us like honoured guests and gifted us with a book of the history of the school and fed and watered us very satisfactorily at their end of year feast.
Rada giving out shoe box presents sent from the UK
We have also hosted a New Years party, a family of visiting Norwegians and my old friend Bojan. I hadn’t seen him for over 3 years but it was one of those precious friendships that takes off where it left of and then deepens immediately. An amazing time but sadly Bojan is going back to Serbia today.
Mathilda, Bojan & Emil at New Years - they're all taller than me
Yesterday was Christmas in Montenegro. I managed to pace myself better than my last Christmas here when, after 5 visits before 1pm, I felt a bit like Dawn French in the Christmas episode of the Vicar of Dibley….remember? So was pretty exhausted yesterday but at least I could move without….well I’ll spare you the details.
Tomorrow is our Christmas service followed by lunch together at the church. Looking forward to being with people and celebrating the birth of our saviour.
Kotor is an idyllic town and an icon of the Montenegrin coast. As you drop down to the bay from the mountains you feel like you’re entering a Norwegian fjord. It has medieval city walls looping back up into the mountains that were built when the town was part of the Republic of Venice. As you drive along your breath is taken away with every turn.
There is a small group of Christian believers who meet together to worship each Sunday. Leading the group at the moment is Dragan, an old friend from Niksic. Like me in Niksic, he iscaring for the fellowship for a few months. We wanted to go an spend some time with them so stayed over Saturday night and I taught at their meeting on Sunday morning.
Dragan, Mikica & Ilija
It has certainly been one of the highlights of our stay so far. The number one reason is the welcome and hospitality we received from Dragan & Mikica. It was amazing. I could eulogise them for many paragraphs but I will hold back. Suffice it to say that they are wonderful examples of Christian love and mission. They work hard and laugh hard and are a beacon of light to those around them. It was one of those occasions for a preacher when you know you received more than you gave.
Please pray for the Christians in Kotor.
This final picture is of a young man I met. He is holding his picture of ‘God’ and was about to launch into a graphic re-telling of David & Goliath. His favourite bit seemed to be when David cuts Goliath’s head off. He really wanted us to be sure how it was done!
Matija and God
Much of my time here is taken up with sermon prep. There are endless distractions. As can be seen.
No love lost here
Last week I took myself away to a restaurant by a lake and had a really productive (and tasty) few hours. As can be seen.
I can't complain
I find that the key to getting on with a good sermon is applying the grace of God to self-discipline. If I try and just get on with it in my own strength then I lose every time. But God is strong in my own weakness.
Did you know Montenegro has the most refugees (per capita) in the world?
Had a really long day today. Left the house at 6am in pouring rain to catch the bus to Podgorica (the capital) with Danijel (the student worker). We were going to go and help some Egyptian Roma families renovate the interior of their houses. They are refugees who had to flee persecution from Albanians in Kosovo and ended up in a Red Cross Refugee Camp in Montenegro.
Beautiful Egyptian Roma Children
Their houses are made of wood and are made of one average size room and one tiny room and are without running water. You can get over a dozen people living in each house. We were working on one that was leaking and cold so were putting in some new insulation and fixing the ceiling and roof*. It was of course a real privilege but conditions were poor to say the least. What was lacked in the ‘standard of living’ was certainly made up for with hospitality and character of the peope. Wet, cold, dirty and exhausted I returned to Niksic and had one of the best showers I ever had….the things we take for granted.
And then this evening, in total contrast, we had a Wii party. Good fun is becoming a habit on Monday nights! 🙂 Here is me in action —>
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