“…He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when He brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow Him for they know His voice.” John 10:3
God has been so gracious to provide a bit of time in the UK to meet with other missionaries, old friends, new contacts, and to sit back, meditate, read and just “be”. I spent the past year almost always around people, and as every mother knows, children don’t seem to understand it when you try to be alone for a while. Thus, even after I would go to my room and be in bed, there would often be a quiet knocking and someone would need a cuddle, or a tucking in, or wanted a nighttime prayer. And then, all of a sudden, there were no children, no babies, no little footsteps at my door, but, God had graciously so orchestrated that the first place I stopped in England was with a family which has been involved in orphanage work for the past couple years. This allowed me to be open about my ministry, and more importantly, they understood completely the context I was talking about, and how it was to leave the children. It was wonderful, and the next ten days were filled with people who were very encouraging and I was surrounded by the lush green landscape and beautiful sights that I had not seen in a long time. God also opened up opportunities to speak with the students at a Bible School in York as well as several missionaries, which were unexpected blessings.
Though I was a bit worn out after traveling around the UK, it was a refreshed tiredness. And I flew into Budapest on the 19th, where I met with five other missionaries and continued with them through Eastern Europe. One of them I was in Kosovo with last year, Robbie Mezger, and this time his sister and brother-in-law are also with him. It has been a wonderful time of working with them, as they are considering moving to this area as full-time missionaries. It was amazing driving down from Budapest, through Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia and see the contrasts between countries lately ridden with war. We went to a petrol station in Serbia where we didn’t speak English and then crossed the border of Kosovo and were loved because we spoke American.
We started out from Budapest and headed South, through Serbian borders, and then stopped over at a Seminary in Usjeck, Croatia. This part of Croatia very much still holds the scars of war upon nearly every wall. Some places here look and feel ominous and ghostly, a strange an unnatural silence prevailing, in the midst of which can be heard the hardened cries of unvoiced anger, hurt, and depression. And then we entered into the land of America-lovers: Kosovo. In this beautiful land we stayed with the same missionary that hosted us last year, and were involved with many of the same people there. It was very meaningful to return to the same city, Mitrovice, because I enjoyed the culture so much last year, and began some relationships that God has allowed me to continue through this year. These are a people that have done a commendable job rebuilding their shelled out homes but have yet to look towards the Master Builder to restore the life within them.
After our time in Kosovo we had a long drive to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The journey was glorious. Montenegro was mountainous with these jagged rock snow-covered mountains behind the green ones. And as it was a sunny day, the splendor of the Lord lit upon the peaks, saturated the sparse villages that precariously hung off the mountainsides, and reached down to the ravine that lay beneath us. What a site it was! In addition to the beauty we saw, we happened to be in Montenegro about ten hours after they declared independence from Serbia. We had been assured that it would be safe enough to be in the country on the day, and it was such a laugh to come to the border where all the guards could hardly stand because they were still half-drunk from the night before. We were gladly waved through
We headed out again and went to Bosnia. Even worse than Croatia were the buildings of Mostar and Sarajevo. We stopped in Mostar and walked around skeletons of buildings and into the downtown, which would appear in any other setting a nearly-normal downtown with sellers and ice cream shops. But scattered throughout, in corners or against walls, were signs that simply said, “Don’t Forget”. It has been 13 years since the year of death in Mostar, but with the constant daily reminders of shell-holed buildings and bomb-potted streets it would seem impossible to forget. As we moved through the country to Sarajevo, the story was the same. Here there has been more rebuilding and repair work, but there are still many, many reminders of the war. One of which would be the city graveyard filling the rolling hills with white monuments, all with the numbers 1995. I wonder if those hills mind that they have been so aerated by these steeples of white, or if they have calmly continued to push up the grass and daisies all the same. Whichever way, the sight is tragically luminous, like an host of candles on top a chocolate cake, whose flames will never again be lit. That being said, we were able to meet and get to know missionaries there who dream for a greater Light to stand upon that hill and cover the hurts of war and suffering. And they are vigorously praying and doing in order to see that happen.
We carried on to Vukovar, Croatia where we stayed with the pastor of one of the local churches that Robbie knew. Out of everywhere we went, this city grabbed my heart. The silence of the streets and the people was uncharacteristic; the cloud of depression was heavy upon the town and its inhabitants. It seemed that even the Communist buildings had begun to feel the weight of their gray and crumbling perfectly-placed stones. In this city God established a relationship between a woman in her late twenties and me. She did me the honour of sharing her difficult story with me and asking for advice. She has been given cause to doubt everything and everyone in the world, including herself and God, but now she is at an end, a place where she will either cling to Christ, or struggle against drowning in the dark sea which surrounds her. My prayers are that she will look to Christ, and I would ask all of you to join me in praying for someone to come alongside her to encourage her and to show her the Love which is immutable.
Another move to Zagreb to meet with a missionary family there for a few days, and then off we went to Budapest to debrief with one another. Altogether we had a wonderful trip and were able to bring hope and encouragement to both the missionaries and churches in these areas, which is always such an honour and testimony to the Head of this Family which spans the nations.
Some more news is that I will be returning stateside in June. It will be wonderful to meet again with my family, Churches, and friends in the late June/July months. The thing I look forward to most is rejoining a local flock, to be in the midst of fellow sheep both to encourage and be encouraged.
Until we meet again in the flesh. In the Eternal Presence, Nicole de Martimprey