Birthday in Budimpešti

“But for all our fears we are not alone. Our trouble is that we think of ourselves as being alone. Let us correct the error by thinking of ourselves as standing by the bank of a full flowing river; then let us think of that river as being none else but God Himself. We glance to our left and see the river coming full out of our past; we look to the right and see it flowing on into our future. But we see also that it is flowing through our present. And in our today it is the same as it was in our yesterday, not less than, nor different from, but the very same river, one unbroken continuum, undiminished, active and strong as it moves sovereignly on into our tomorrow.” — A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man

Last week in Budapest, as I sat in a room full of fellow STINTers to Eastern Europe, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed at the work the Lord is doing throughout our region. I listened as the speaker, John, a Cru staff member working in the regional headquarters in Budapest, used Tozer’s analogy to explain how God is moving.

“God’s work is flowing now,” he said, encouraging us to not simply focus on the future, but also to open our eyes to what the Lord is doing now.

I’ve said this before, but STINT can be discouraging at times, especially when you don’t see instant results. And to be honest, I can really let discouragement get me down. It takes a toll on my attitude and can make me think that there’s no hope.

But I’m thankful that God doesn’t allow me to remain in this state of mind. And STINT Weekend in Budapest was just another way that the Lord reminded me that our labor is not in vain and that ALL of God’s promises will come to fruition. Not just some of His promises. But ALL of them. I was reminded of God’s goodness and His desire for Jesus to be glorified throughout the whole earth. I was reminded of the Gospel and my need to depend fully on the Spirit, otherwise I can’t do anything. And I was reminded of God’s love, not only for the world, but also for me, His child.

What a privilege it was to hear stories about life-change and how the Gospel is spreading in Montenegro, Bosnia, Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. We were also able to share needs with each other and spend time praying together.

It’s amazing to think that just 20+ years ago, in my lifetime, most of these countries were closed to missionaries and the Gospel. But since the fall of Communism, we’ve watched as the Lord has opened door after door to allow for His life-giving and life-changing message. Just with Campus Crusade for Christ International, we have campus ministries in nearly 100 cities! And we’re praying for another 100 cities to have student-led movements by 2020. We know that the Lord can make this happen.

Even just in the last few years, since we began the partnership in Slovenia, we’ve seen God raise up students to help lead the movement here. We’ve watched as the Gospel has captured the hearts of young people and how God has used these 18-22-year-olds to reach their friends and families.

While the conference was incredibly encouraging, I also just had a lot of fun exploring Budapest! (Not to mention, I got to celebrate my 24th birthday!)

Budapest — or Budimpešti in Slovene — is a beautiful capital city beside the Danube River, with charming castles and glorious Austro-Hungarian architecture. The city bustles all day, but becomes magical at night, especially around Christmas. Bright lights illuminate the most beautiful of buildings — the Opera House, Parliament, and other government buildings — as well as the vibrant and classic Christmas markets in the city center.

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The narrow streets are aligned with stalls of mulled wine and cider, sausages, roasted and sugar-coated almonds, chimney cakes (large cylindrical cinnamon rolls), candies, chocolates, and handcrafted pottery and ornaments. Shoppers, families, couples, and friends happily stroll around the stalls. There’s an air of excitement in anticipation of Christmas.

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And I was even more excited, not just for Christmas and a chance to explore a new city, but also to celebrate my birthday with my team, complete with a gingerbread latte (soy and decaf) at Starbucks on Friday and a day full of dietary cheating on Saturday. (I didn’t go overboard, or make myself sick, but I did indulge a little.)

The best part was dessert, though, at Alexandra Bookcafé, a café located in a former French department store. I felt like I was dining with royals in Paris, just by the elaborate décor. And the desserts were divine — coconut hot chocolate and chocolate cake with fluffy chocolate and vanilla mousse filling. I savored every minute.

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Let’s just say that it was marvelous to feel normal for 24 hours, not concentrating on my restrictions, but enjoying freedom.

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And the next day, I got to relax and detox at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, a popular destination for tourists and nationals alike. The 100-year-old baths have 15 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pools, and 10 sauna and steam chambers. Don’t worry, everyone was clothed.

After an afternoon of hot-tubbing, the STINT teams gathered together for a traditional goulash dinner, singing Christmas carols, and just spending time with each other before we all left Budapest.

I’m so thankful to have been able to spend my birthday and the weekend being encouraged, not just in ministry, but also in the little things, like chocolate cake.

Balkan Adventure: A Journey to the “Motherland”

A few weeks ago, my teammates packed up our rented STINT mobile and began our Balkan tour with a  five-hour trek through the Croatian countryside to Split — an ancient city with a rich history and an exotic, Eastern-European feel.

Upon arrival that evening, the warm, salty sea air, palm trees, and old architecture greeted us like friends. We strolled along the stone streets, illuminated by street lanterns positioned along the buildings. Along the shore stood several cafes with seating that faced the sea. “This is beautiful,” I exclaimed, repeating this nearly every time I turned a corner. I was surprised at how nice the old city was.

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After spending the night at the Tchaikovsky Hostel, a few minutes’ walk to the shore, we ventured through town, passed the crowded fish market and narrow streets, to Diocletian’s Palace, the focal point of the city. The nearly two-hour walking tour of the palace was a great use of our time. Not only did we see the best preserved palace and walk along the original stone streets, but we also learned the history of the 4th century palace and of Diocletian, the only Roman emperor to retire.

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Jupiter’s Temple

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Diocletian’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few interesting facts I learned:

1. Diocletian’s Palace is so well preserved because people have been living inside the palace walls since it was built.
2. Diocletian worshipped Jupiter, and he believed he was the son of Jupiter. And there are 3,500 year old sphinxes from ancient Egypt that guard Jupiter’s Temple.
3. Diocletian chose to retire to Dalmatia (Split) because he believed the water had healing qualities for his arthritis. (The water in Split has a high amount of sulfur. He also grew his own cabbage, which also has a high amount of sulfur in it.)
4. The room of the palace pictured below is the vomitorium. The vomitorium was common in the Roman Empire because it was customary for privileged guests to make themselves vomit during and after a 27-course feast to show appreciation to the emperor. A 27-course meal is a little excessive, if you ask me.

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I found some beautiful flowers inside the palace.

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And I found the smallest street in Split.

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“Helena Pedina from Hercegovina”

There’s a story that’s been passed down in my family about my great maternal grandmother, Helena Pedina from Hercegovina. Actually, it’s not really a story so much as it’s a joke about her birth name. How often do you meet a Helena Pedina from Hercegovina? So naturally, it’s now a running joke with my team. (My mom’s family is from Croatia and Albania, as well.) Anyway, my mom, Helene, was actually named after her, so you understand why I was so excited to tour this region.

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After two nights in Split, our team continued our adventure to Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina, a city with a mix of old and new. The newer part of the city surrounds the older part. The newer city still has remnants of the 18-month siege during the Bosnian War in the early nineties. Golfball-sized bullet holes blanket run-down buildings and abandoned parking garages. Though the city is striving to rebuild, these buildings serve as a dark reminder of the country’s past.

In the older part of the city stands the Old Bridge, a 16th century bridge built by the Ottomans. Although the bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War, it has since been rebuilt. This landmark is symbolic of the connection between east and west. On both sides of the bridge is a maze of souvenir shops full of scarves, trinkets, paintings, copper pots, jewelry, and postcards. (I caved and bought a beautiful oil painting of the Old Bridge from a second-generation artist, pictured below.)

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As we made our way out of the city, we stopped at the Karadjoz-Beg Mosque, another 16th century landmark. The architecture boasts with intricate details. From the top of the minaret, we had the best view of the city. But the height was too much for me to handle, especially after climbing the steep and narrow 100 steps to get to the top. I couldn’t really enjoy the view because I was so close to hyperventilating. So within a minute, I had to go back down. I guess you could say that the view was “breathtaking.”

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After a few hours in Mostar, we once again hit the road, traveling to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Hercegovina. Sarajevo also has an interesting past, which is particularly evident in the architecture and overall look of the city. The capital has a mix of modern shops and parks, concrete buildings from the Communist era, along with old Austro-Hungarian and ancient Ottoman influences.

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Avaz Twist Tower

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An Old Market

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The balcony where Tito would speak.

I love history and seeing historic landmarks (I get that from my dad), so the one thing I really wanted to see was the Latin Bridge, where WWI began. If you remember from history class in high school, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. This was the spark that started the war. A museum now sits at the corner to show the history of the time period,  and it also displays the pistol that Princip used, as well as his pants (pictured below).

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Tourism aside, I think the best part of the trip, though, was spending time with the Sarajevo STINT team (a team who is laboring for the Gospel, like we are in Slovenia) and meeting other Bosnian believers who have a heart for their country. And I’m so thankful for the hospitality of the local church that welcomed us and cared for us while we were there. What a blessing it was to be encouraged by this team, spend time sharing stories, eat some čevapčiči (chay-vap-che-chee) together, and just get to see their lives and ministry in Sarajevo. Because of this, I came home with a greater heart for the world and a greater perspective on perseverance for the Gospel in Slovenia. And for that, I am thankful.