Homecoming to Ljubljana

It’s hard to believe that I first arrived in my beautiful new home of Ljubljana, Slovenia already 15 days ago. It’s also hard for me to articulate all the emotions I experienced or even to capture all the things I’ve already seen or done. But I’ll at least try to give you an idea. Let’s flash back a few weeks to the day I was supposed to leave.

Thursday, September 12 was an odd day emotionally. That morning, I finished packing last-minute items in my two, 50-pound suitcases, loaded up the car, said “bye” to my Aunt Michelle, and made the drive with my parents to the airport. I remember feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation, fear, sadness, anxiety. The day for which I had been preparing for the past four months (or four years if you want to get technical) had finally arrived.

At the airport, I met one of my teammates Hilary (pictured below). After checking in our bags, we said our tearful goodbyes to our parents, which I must say was hard, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hug them until April of next year. (I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it. *Wipes away tears*). And as usual, Mom and Dad waited to leave until I waved once through security.

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

But at this point, Hilary and I were ready for the long day of travel to finally get to a place we’d only heard about for years. The outpour of prayers, love, encouragement, and support on Facebook, Instagram, and through text messages was incredible.

We found our gate, and shortly after heard the news that our flight to Newark was delayed. First for an hour. Then for two hours. There was a groundstop in Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, Boston, and Washington Dulles because of an approaching storm. We were back and forth on the phone with our teammates, who were waiting for us in Newark, and our location director, trying to figure out what to do.

Eventually, we boarded the plane (three hours after we were supposed to have taken off). But we didn’t go anywhere. We taxied on the runway for more than an hour waiting for the OK to take off. That OK never came. Eventually, we went back to the terminal. At this point, our other teammates were boarded on our flight to Munich.

I was confused. Frustrated. I was upset with God. So many people are praying for us, why won’t You let us go? But God reminded me that this wasn’t a surprise to Him. It’s obvious He didn’t want us on that plane, just based on the fact that so many people were praying, and it still didn’t happen.

We scrambled to find other flights out that night. But nothing happened. Lloyd, an airport employee, was working with us to try and book flights for us. When he went into the computer, flight itineraries were booked for us for the next day. We got the last seats on the flight to Dulles, then to Munich. I still don’t know who booked the tickets, or how we got the last seats. But I do know the Lord provided in this way for us. And in the midst of everything, I still had deep-seated peace knowing that God always does what is best for me and what brings Him the most glory. Though I didn’t understand, I knew Hilary and I would be OK.

After 9 hours in the airport, my mom picked Hilary and me up from the airport and took us to a hotel, where Hilary and I spent the night. I was so nice getting to spend another few hours with my mom and getting to hug her again, especially after the day we had. I’m so thankful for that.

The next day, we gave it another go. This time went a little more smoothly. When we finally made it to Munich on Saturday morning, the rest of the team greeted us with smiles and hugs, which were very much needed on our end. There was overall a sense of relief when we got there. And the drive from Munich to Ljubljana was breathtaking, which helped a lot, too. What an awesome reminder of God and His creation!

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to life in the city, learning how the buses work and our way around the grocery stores, preparing as team for our start on campus, catching on to some Slovene words, and figuring out how to work the washing machine and dishwasher in our apartment, just to name a few things.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana!

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the fun has been exploring Ljubljana and some nearby villages. Last weekend, as a team we hiked through one of Slovenia’s national parks and spent the night at the weekend home of Uroš (oo-rōsh), one of the student volunteers in our campus ministry Vsak Študent.

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John. Photo by Uroš

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Did I mention how beautiful this country is? Because it is.

I’m just constantly amazed at how the Lord has provided in the last few weeks, and throughout the last year to bring me here. It’s incredible to think of all the little ways He has made this year possible — physical healing, prayer and financial partners to send me, food that I can eat here (including rice milk gelato!!), and encouraging teammates, who are also a lot of fun!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

I’ve also been blessed to see some of fruit that God is producing in the ministry in Ljubljana. (In my next post later this week, I’ll share more about the spiritual climate in Ljubljana and share stories about some of the students I’ve met.)

P.S. To follow our ministry in Ljubljana and what our team is doing, check out our blog, Sent To Slovenia.

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23 Things

In honor of launching this new blog, and because I just celebrated my *gasp* 23rd birthday, I decided it would be fitting to post the top 23 things I’ve learned about life, about Jesus, and about myself in the past year. (Of course, there are other things I could’ve added, but I had to stop somewhere!)

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(Photo courtesy of Alex Menrisky. Cannes, France 2010)

23. No matter how many times I watch them, The Big Bang Theory and Friends will always make me laugh audibly.

22. Rocking out to JBiebs, TSwift, and One Direction is a lot more fun when you’re with friends. (I also pride myself on knowing the token rap portions to pop songs.)

21. Choosing to thank God in the all circumstances is like saying, “Lord, I trust You despite my situation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) This contributes to our joy.

20. Friends in ministry always told me that the first year of fulltime ministry would be the hardest and that ministry is like a magnet that rockets brokenness to the surface. I don’t know about the first part because I can’t compare it to anything yet, I definitely agree with the latter. So, yes, it’s difficult, but it’s good for me. (James 1:2-5)

19. Sanctification is a privilege not a punishment. Yes, it can be painful, but God loves us too much to leave us unchanged. (Philippians 1:6)

18. I am in dire need of God’s grace every moment of every day. His grace is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12).

17. The Lord sustains me. (“I wake again because the Lord sustains me.” –Psalm 3:5) I don’t think this truth has ever been so clear to me as it was this year. In the midst of extreme fatigue, the Lord provided me with the strength, and continues to give me enough strength to get me through each day. And in the midst, the Lord also provides rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and restoration (Psalm 23).

16. Traveling is probably one of my absolute favorite things to do. So far, I’ve been to 14 countries. And I have no desire to stop there. I can’t seem to go a year without going out of the country.

15. I have a deep desire to help fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus says in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Call me crazy, but I want to see Jesus come back.

14. My time in Morocco was incredibly challenging. But I’ve realized recently that if I added ministry and discipleship to what I did when I was there, I would have my absolute dream job. Combining French, journalism, travel, missions, and Jesus — that would make for a killer career.

13. As much as I don’t like to admit this, I don’t have my life figured out. Or even the next year. This is highly unusual, because I’m a planner. But I’m convinced this is God’s way of saying to me, “Trust Me.”

12. God has created me to be me and to love Him. He knows my heart and because of Jesus, loves me anyway. My past, present, and future are all in under His control. (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29)

11. I love France. But I think you already knew that. I’ve adored France and the French language since I was 6. Does visiting France five times make it an obsession??

10. I absolutely love people and being involved in others’ lives. But I still cherish my alone time.

9. I get really emotionally involved in good movies, TV shows, and books.

8. I prefer deep conversation to small talk.

7. Leading and shepherding women in their walks with Jesus is one of the most fulfilling jobs I could have. In my opinion, some of the best ways to invest time and money is in relationships with God, relationships with people, missions and sharing Jesus with the world.

6. The Lord has blessed me with an amazing family and wonderful friends who love me as I am and constantly point me back to Jesus.

5. Cooking and baking relax me. Trying new recipes is an exciting adventure for me, especially ethnic foods or vegan baked goods. (I like trying new restaurants, too!)

4. My ideal day would be spent at a café in Europe surrounded by cobblestone streets and old architecture, sitting outside, sipping café au lait, journaling, reading, watching people walk by, and having good conversation with anyone who is with me.

3. Taking steps of faith is hard, but God wants us to live and live abundantly. Cru’s definition of successful evangelism is “Taking steps of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” This doesn’t just apply to evangelism, but to your daily walk with Jesus. What an adventure God calls us to!

2. Living for Jesus does not make life easy, and when you become a believer, your life doesn’t become perfect. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. (Mark 8:34-35). But following Jesus is worth it. And we aren’t left alone, we have incredible power in the Spirit that’s inside believers. We believers often forget that.

1. The reward for following Jesus is Jesus. It’s that simple. We don’t follow Jesus to receive blessings or crowns in Heaven or even to get to Heaven. While those are great, I’ll say again, the reward for following Jesus is Jesus.

As you look back at the past year, what have you learned about yourself? About life? About God?

Caché: Tighza Valley

For my senior professional project, I wanted to combine hands-on journalism with my French language studies. So, I chose to spend five weeks in Morocco to compile interviews and observations in order to produce my final product, Caché. My friend, Kim Hackman (pictured below), a photojournalism student, served as my photographer throughout the trip.

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Because ethnographic and immersion journalism place the greatest importance on understanding the lives and cultures of others, I chose this method to research the Tighza Valley and the people who inhabit the region. By immersing myself into the Tighza village life for a period of time, I now have a better and understanding of the people and their traditions through in-depth interviews, conversations and observations. My stories, in the form of ethnographic and narrative journalism, attempt to place readers directly into the scene as the subject talks.

To provide a sense of the subjects’ lives, I interviewed approximately 55 villagers and had informal conversations with many others. The stories also capture events and daily life through observation. While in the village, we attended wedding ceremonies, watched women bake bread, went to a Ramadan feast and hiked four hours uphill to camp by Lake Tamda and talk to shepherds. We were also able to observe social gatherings and the villagers’ daily lives.

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By attending social events as an observer, I had the ability to see life from an insider’s perspective but without altering the event. Because I did not speak the language, Tachelhit (tesh-la-heet), it was impossible to know everything happening at social events, or even in everyday dialogue. So, I gathered much of my background information through interviews and unstructured coversations with interpreters or with villagers (with the help of interpreters).

Throughout my time in Tighza, I conducted interviews in French, which my three interpreters then translated into Tachelhit. The interpreters, all of whom were born in the village, spoke Tachelhit, Arabic, and varying degrees of French. I worked closest with Mina El Mouden (pictured below), a 24-year-old woman with a strong academic background and a proficiency in French. El Mouden interpreted for a majority of the interviews, including all interviews with female villagers. Because of El Mouden’s gender and the lack of men present in the rooms where I interviewed, the women shared more openly about their stories and daily struggles. The most powerful stories came from the lives of women, who seemed empowered that someone would take an interest in them and listen to them.

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When in Tighza, I stayed at the home of Carolyn Logan (pictured below), originally from the United Kingdom, and her husband, Mohamed El Qasemy, who was born and raised in the village. Logan, the only English speaker in the village, was my primary source of contact because we could communicate without interpretation, and she was familiar with the culture and people of the region.

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Throughout the process, I trusted Logan to provide insight and explanation of events and cultural differences because she had lived in the culture for five years, and she explained these things in a way a Westerner could understand. Her views of village life proved to be very similar to my own perspective because we were both foreigners.

The 29-year-old Mohamed and his 25-year-old brother, Ahmed, served as my other interpreters. Both left school in their pre-teen years, but because of their experience working alongside foreigners visiting the village, they picked up French. The brothers, sons of a respected village elder, were well known among the people of Tighza, giving us access to more sources and contacts.

Our purpose is to present an accurate account of the lives of the villagers, both through text and through photos. My hope with the magazine is that after reading the stories of the villagers of Tighza, readers will come away with a better understanding of their lives and the rich culture of the Berbers of the High Atlas Mountains.

Click HERE to see the digital version of the magazine!

(Sample pages are shown below.)

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Ma vie est très occupée (4/16/2010)

I had a busy week, and each day was jam-packed with something, particularly during the day. Thankfully, I have all of my evenings free. I’m definitely not used to that. In Ohio, I had activities Sunday through Thursday nights, but now I have nothing. It’s weird. The good news is that I’m not really stressed. Unbelievable, I know. I have work to do, but I’m not worried. This is a good feeling. Very good.

Anyway, Monday, Nicole had her daughter, her son-in-law and her grandson over for une petite fête for her son-in-law. It was his birthday, so we celebrated with a fantastic dinner. The dinner was excellent, and Nicole is a wonderful cook. We had crevettes (shrimp still in the shells) and moules (mussels). The crevettes were an experience in themselves. By the end, I was an expert at shelling shrimp, though my hands were covered in butter and garlic. Crevettes are the French equivalent to chicken wings in America. (Below is the only picture I have of crevettes and mussels. I took the picture at La Grande Motte on Sunday.)

Then for dessert, we had gâteau (cake). The dough of the cake, which comprised two thin layers (each was about an inch thick), had a doughnut-like texture and a vanilla flavor. In between the layers of dough was a thin layer of fluffy vanilla crème. Large sugar crystals covered the top layer. Not only was the cake delicious, but it is a finger-food. You’re supposed to eat it with your hands! Finger-foods pretty much don’t exist in France, unless you eat at McDo (McDonald’s).

In other news, I had two rendez-vous (meetings) on Skype Wednesday with Madame Stewart (my high school French teacher) and her senior French classes. It was great conversing in French with her and her classes about my life in France. The best part is that Madame Stewart is taking a group of students to France and Switzerland, and we will be in Paris at the same time (Friday, June 10). They’re coming, and I’m going, but at least we have one day in common.

Oh, and two more little things. First, I discovered generic brands of French food (shown below). All of the food shown in the picture was a total of 2.60 Euros (about $3.25), and that’s extremely cheap. Second, I was able to stream Glee online last night. It gave me a taste of home, and the episode was quirky and wonderful.

J’ai passé un bon week-end (4/12/10)

Well, my friends, it has been another busy few days. This weekend, I decided to stay in Avignon, which was a very smart idea on my part. Because I stayed here, I was able to explore the city like I’ve been wanting to do. I think the best way to tell you is by separating into days. I know it’s a lot, but please stick with me. Here goes…

Jeudi / Thursday

I had five hours of class, and by the end, my head was about to explode. It’s hard enough concentration for that long in a class in English, but this was obviously in French. In these classes, there is no much thing as “zoning out,” not even for a few seconds. If you miss one thing, you get completely lost. It’s also a bit difficult when the professors speak quickly, because when you’re brain is translating the first they say, they’ve already moved on to the next topic. Needless to say, I have to stay on my toes. All the time.

I had my Culture and Société class and my Histoire class on Thursday. My CS professor is bit eccentric, but she knows what she’s talking about. The class is interesting because it’s basically French sociologie (sociology). We learned about the origin of different French salutations, specifically the bises, when the French greet each other with kisses on each cheek. Well, they’re almost kisses; you don’t actually kiss, but you do make the kissing noise. As it turns out, the number of kisses is different depending on where you live in France. The number ranges from two to four. For example, people in Avignon bises three times, while Parisians bises twice. The bises is the equivalent to the American hug.

For history class, our professor took us on a tour of the city. He explained the architecture and the history of particular buildings and churches. Though we walked for two hours, it was much more enjoyable than sitting in the classroom. And the best part, I can actually understand my professor. His accent took me some time to get used to.

Vendredi / Friday

First, let me start by saying that I love not having class on Fridays. After eight full hours of sleep, I awoke to the brilliant sunshine. I started my day with quiet time then homework, and I wrote one of my papers sitting on the terrace in the sun. Instead of cooping myself up in the house all day, I decided to venture on my own Avignon tour, which included me visiting little shops such as Shakespeare, the English used-bookstore down the street. The shop owner is an adorable old fellow. I believe he is from Poland, but his primary language is English. Anyway, I couldn’t have imagined a better shop owner; he fits the store quite well. He is thin and hunches a bit. He speaks slowly and with gentleness. His hair is snow-white, and he wears tiny glasses that rest on the end of his nose. I’m planning to return soon, drink some tea and read a good book. That sounds wonderful to me.

I continued on my way, and I ran into Sammi and Kierstin. Earlier, I had passed a discount shoe shop with a sign in the window saying, “Troisième Gratuit,” meaning buy two, get one free! Sadly, I didn’t find any shoes that I was “head over heels for.” Gasp! I used a cliché. Anyway, the rest of my afternoon was spent shopping for petits cadeaux (little gifts). Shopping for these gifts gave me an opportunity to visit the various candy and chocolate shops of Avignon. It was difficult not to buy anything for myself.

While shopping, we made plans for the evening — have a pique-nique (picnic) at the Palais des Papes. We (Sammi, Kierstin and I) all returned to our respective maisons (houses) for dinner and then met at the Palais at 22h (10:00 p.m.).

Samedi / Saturday

Saturday was a busy day for me as well. I woke up early to go to a cooking demonstration at Les Halles, which is the Avignon equivalent to Pittsburgh’s Strip District. It is a giant marketplace with fresh produce, meat, bread and sweets.

The demonstration consisted of a French chef walking us through the process of salmon tartare, which is raw salmon mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, and a dollop of avocado cream on top. I was nervous to taste it because the salmon was raw, but I faced my fear of raw meat, and it was delicious. We also received tiny samples of white wine with it. After tasting the wine, I gave mine to Alex.

After the demonstration, we had two hours to kill before the dégustation du vin (wine-tasting). So, Kierstin, Alex and I bought little French pastries for lunch. I bought pain au chocolat amande (chocolate in the center of a croissant-like pastry crust, topped with powered sugar and slivered almonds). We enjoyed the pastries in the Place L’Horloge, a little square near the Palais.

Now, as you have probably already seen in other posts, I don’t like alcohol and I don’t drink; however, I decided to attend the wine-tasting for three reasons. It was free. I’m in France. And, it’s at the most famous place in Avignon, the seat of the old papacy. I figured, why not? This is part of “taking it all in.”

At the tasting, which was only for my group from OU, we tried five different types of wine and also learned how to properly taste wine. First, the wine is poured. Make sure you hold the wine glass at the top of the handle, but underneath the actual glass. Second, swirl the wine around in the glass. Smell it. Examine the color. Then take a tiny sip. Once you sip it, you are supposed to make a swooshing motion with your mouth so the wine spread around in your mouth. Then, drink the wine, or spit it out in special buckets they provide. You aren’t supposed to drink all of the wine you receive.

After the wine-tasting, Sammi and I went shopping with Christelle. Later we met Florian for ice cream. At the last minute, Christelle and Florian invited us to the beach with them Sunday.

   

 

 

 

 

Dimanche / Sunday

We left for the beach around 11:30 a.m., and the trip took about one hour and a half. They took us the scenic route, full of mountains, meadows and rustic houses with orange shingles. After arriving at La Grande Motte, like the French version of Myrtle Beach, we immediately went to eat some seafood at their favorite restaurant, L’Oasis, where I tried my first mussel and my first slice raw beef. Loved the mussel, didn’t like the beef. After a leisurely lunch in the sun, Florian, Christelle and I played sand volleyball, while Sam sunbathed. The sun was hot, but the wind was cool. The Mediterranean is blue and sparkling, and is just beautiful. On the beach, we met two of Christelle’s friends, Nicholas and Christophe.

Although the weekend was incredibly packed, it couldn’t have been much better.