"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has planned for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9 Each day is a battle to do the right thing. Each day is a battle to do the right thing.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Kosova 1, part 4

Our time in the guest house, while cozy, came to an end. We found lodging in a mini-hotel a few streets down from the church. The bad thing was that it cost more money than the guest house and while breakfast was free, we had no fridgerator to store food in like we did at the guest house. We moved in easily, since we still had not received our luggage (our Macedonian friends were keeping contact with the airport for us), and settled into our rooms. I roomed with the youngest girls—2 college freshmen (Jessica and Stacey). The weird thing about our view was that it looked out on the remains of a bombed building. We were told it was a communications tower used by Slobodon Milosevic and the serbs in Belgrade, therefore the UN eliminated it to keep Pristina safe.

Breakfast was interesting. While in an Albanian-speaking country, the hotel was run by Germans—just one more language to learn. We finally learned the German meanings for what we wanted (though I will never like Turkish coffee again).

Showers were also different. Now you find out about the bottles of water at the guest house. Water and electricity are sketchy in Pristina, perhaps all of Kosova. With no mail or phone at the time, we really shouldn’t have been surprised. They would come on and go off at will, and we had no way of knowing when they would come on again. So when the water was on, we were told to make sure that the bottles of water (2 liters mostly) were full of water, just in case you wanted to take a shower and didn’t care about the temperature of the water. The bad thing about the electricity going out was that the heat would disappear and we had to carry flashlights with us everywhere because of the streetlights going out at night. But at our new place of residence, we had almost real showers, enough to feel better.

As far as eating was concerned, we ate out most of the time. Sometimes we went grocery shopping for non-refrigerated items to keep in our rooms to snack on. At night we ate out—mostly at a café around the corner that served pretty decent Italian food according to my great-grandmother’s genes. A few times, we went out to eat while the power was out—hard to order cooked meat that way, but we did ok. One thing that amused me was their definition of salad. We ordered salad even though we’d been told not to back in the states because we’d only had one round of Hepatitis A vaccine and weren’t protected from it yet. Salad in Kosova was cut tomatoes and cucumber with oil and vinegar on them. Huh. But when we did go out, we would usually have someone from the church with us, and therefore be there for hours talking. It was fun.

Then came the days where people in our group got the flu. Steve and his son got it first. The Mike’s son. Carlos, Paul, Kelly and Connie. Just about everyone got it. I started getting sick the day before Christmas Eve. Luckily, my doctor had given me some meds just in case (I get chronic bronchitis). Then the best thing happened—we got our luggage. It was so great to put on fresh clothes!!! Better than a shopping spree

Kosova 1, part 3

Sunday, we went to Artur’s church , Fellowship of the Lord’s People. There service was similar to ours at Fellowship Church’s, minus the language difference. I remember there was a man with a very disfigured baby a few rows ahead of us. Apparently, the collection that Sunday was for the baby, who had severe burns, to receive medical treatment.

We went to lunch with one of the younger men in the church (I think he was in high school, but then, most of the church was made up of young people). He was our guide for most of the time. Lunch took several hours, so much so that we didn’t eat dinner.

Monday was supposed to be our first day delivering shoeboxes. The large boxes were filled with the shoeboxes, mostly from Great Britain, and they were stored in the Agape House down the street from the church. A truck took several loads to a local school down the street, and later when we were more organized, we walked over. Jeta and I walked arm in arm (sister-like) and chatted as well as we could. Once we were all at the school, it took a while to get organized again (catching onto the theme?). The plan was for a couple of volunteers (us and YWAM people) to go into each classroom with an interpreter from the church. The volunteers would speak about why we were there and tell them what the boxes were for, then hand out the shoeboxes to the children. It sorta went that way.

The first part was difficult because the interpreters had to keep up with us, but the point got across. The second part was miraculous—to see the children’s eyes open wide and giggle while they opened their boxes was wonderful, even addictive. We all got into the spirit of it all. Isn’t that what’s its all about? The YWAM people put on a show later for the kids. It was a narrative about the Christmas Story. Their “Mary” was sick, so I had to play her—too funny for me. We led them in some cute kiddie songs, too.

The next few days we delivered boxes and introduced ourselves to kids during the day and worked for Campus Crusade at night. Most of the time, the group was split up. We hung out at the church a lot and had some down time in our meeting room and sang songs and prayed. One memory hangs on the most—we were in one of the last schools and I was wandering around while people were in the classrooms. I was drawn to a wall covered in hand-drawn pictures. It was art-therapy. The children had been encouraged to fight their fears by drawing what happened to them during the war. The one that broke my heart was a picture of a house with gun-toting men inside, while the boy figure tries to escape out the window and it met with a gun pointing to his head. Bodies were drawn on the ground. I cannot imagine such horror.

Inside the Agape House's Storage area, these boxes are all filled with shoeboxes for the children. Back: Burl, Paul, me, Mike, Tim. Front: Steve, Eric, Carlos, Connie, Stacey, Mike's son, Jessica, Kelly.  Posted by Hello

Our group, waiting outisde the Agape house. Steve, in green, is talking to a local boy. Posted by Hello

Kosova 1, part 2

The people we met at the church were very nice and kind. We met Artur briefly and he told us we would be able to stay in the church’s guest house for a few days until we could find something more stable. The key here is to learn what it took me a bit longer to understand—there are no guarantees in Kosova and you must learn to be flexible and flow with the way things go. There had been people staying the guest house and they had to be moved for us, so it was several hours before we actually went there. In the meantime, we tried out best to communicate with the people who were there at the church, I think they had been practicing a skit for the kids in church.

I met a girl named Jeta, which means “life” in Albanian (which is the language they speak in Kosova). She was 15 or so, about 6 years younger than me, and she knew enough broken English to speak with us about Kosova. Of our group, only 2 had been in this part of the world before—our trip leader, Mike, and Kevin, who was already in Pristina and helping with Campus Crusade. They had been in Albania the summer before as help for the refugees coming out of Kosova; they’s driven around, trying to show the Albanian version of the Jesus Film at the refugee camps.

As we planned on leaving, some children (from the neighborhood?) came by and crowded around us. While it was cold and we were bundled up, they were wearing very little to keep them warm, but they appeared not to notice. They flocked around us as we left in the arranged truck and car to carry us to the guest house.

The guest house was nice by Kosova standards. By ours, it was still be built and had a cabin feel to it. We were told to leave our shoes inside the door, and then were shown to our respective rooms. There were basically two rooms for us, filled with cots and an electric heater. The bathrooms (one upstairs, one downstairs) were different. One had a regular toilet and sink. Across from the toilet there was a shower spicket, with a drain underneath for showers. There were also bottles filled with water, but I’ll get to that later. The second bathroom was similar except that the toilet was Turkish. If you’ve ever used a Turkish toilet, you won’t forget it. Its like a very large urinal, with the porcelain covering a portion of the wall, then all the way down to the floor and out into the floor a bit. There are two raised spots for your feet, and there is a hole in the corner. Some don’t flush, but I think this one did. I did not like that bathroom and it quickly became the men’s room, except in emergencies. Next to the bathroom upstairs was a meeting room/kitchen with more bottles of water, and there was also a bedroom down the hall where some other people with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) were staying.

Our purpose for coming to Kosova was simple: we were working for Samaritan Purse, delivering shoeboxes filled with age appropriate toys, supplies, candy for kids of many ages. Samaritan’s Purse ships shoeboxes all over the world to children in need. We were going to deliver the boxes to kids in the schools during the week before Christmas. We also were there to work with Campus Crusade, showing the Jesus Film in Albanian to people all over the city at night. Artur’s church (one of only a few at the time, since most people in Kosova are Muslim or Catholic by heritage) was a connection for our purposes and they helped us out immensely.

a man walking to the border of Macedonia Posted by Hello

One of the tanks at the Macedonian border Posted by Hello

Me, wondering where our luggage is! Posted by Hello

Kovova 1, part 1

Kosova 1 part 1
In the winter of 1999, I went on a mission trip to the area of Kosova in the Balkans. I had known about Kosova because of the genocide and violence occurring there in the Spring of 1999 and the UN’s intervention based on President Clinton’s desire to bring peace to the area that had known recent conflict in Bosnia and Croatia. When I first heard about the massacres and mass graves in Kosova, I had tried to go over with Peace Corps or the Red Cross, but I couldn’t find a viable way to get involved.

After NATO’s airstrike, the area opened was opened to civilians in the fall. When the opportunity to go on the mission trip came—I jumped at it. We learned about it around Thanksgiving and we left about a week before Christmas. I’d only ever been to France for French credits at school; this time, we traveled to Amsterdam (after we lost 2 members—Paul and Carlos—when Paul left his tickets on our first plane, then they caught up with us on the next flight), then to Budapest, and then to Skopje, Macedonia.

Skopje, only an hour from the border as the crow flies, was a different world. As we left the plane and stood on the tarmac, we saw a lot of men with guns (big guns!). Quickly forced into the airport, we filled out slips of paper indicating our intention (which was travel or some such excuse, because Macedonia is closed to missionaries). After a loooooonnnngg wait to clear customs, we found our luggage missing. The lost-luggage people were incoherent and not very helpful—kept talking about Tom Jones. I used a little French to try to communicate. Apparently, times moves differently in the eastern part of Europe, and we believed our bags had never left Budapest.

Eric, one of our members, knew people in Skopje, and they were able to find us a place to stay for the night. This family was wonderful. Undercover missionaries, they took us in and fed us, gave us any supplies we would need in place of our missing luggage, and helped us find travel for across the border.

The journey across the border should have taken an hour, but remember, this is eastern Europe—multiply by unknown variable. We could see traffic of passenger vehicles for miles; nearby, there were roads for imported goods that stood still. I can’t imagine even the traffic in LA to be this bad. The roads merged, much to our dismay, and we knew this would be a long day.

Hours and hours later, we arrived at the border crossing were NATO was in charge. Government vehicles were rushed through and given priority, but if there was any suspicion, people were stopped and made to wait for however long. One of our members, Burl, was a 70 year old man, and was wearing a fur-lined hat (Russian style). Apparently, the guards believed him to be a diplomat of some sort (it helped to have a white 15 passenger van, similar to government issue), so they allowed us through. We had to, of course, go through customs at the border, which took awhile since there were 14 of us.

The border of Macedonia and Kosova is a scary place. Razor wire along the road, tanks, guards with very large guns, locals selling boxes and cartons of cigarettes. The latter struck us—to see young, gaunt children (under 10) running between slowly moving vehicles, with boxes of cigarettes stacked up to their chins—it was very sad to think that they were helping to contribute to their family’s income, if they had a family.

Kosova’s countryside was beautiful and virtually untouched. It had a roughness that only a virgin landscape could have. Our drivers swerved speedily through the land, since there don’t seem to be any real driving laws, and nearly got us killed a few times. While the countryside was bare, there were billboards every few miles advertising Nescafe. We would see terra cotta roofed houses that were being built or left after being bombed—we couldn’t tell which. What would you think to see half a house? Every now and then, we would see a NATO bunker nestled in the embankments along the side of the road, we never saw anyone in them.

To see Pristina, Kosova’s capital, from far away, must have been what it was like to see big industrial cities like Chicago or Detroit from the nearby country and farmlands outside the city. Pristina stretched across the hillside and through a valley, like a shallow sloping bowl. Sooty was my first impression of the city from afar. It had a grayish tinge in comparison to the rich greens and browns of the countryside.

Suddenly, we were inside the city. It was like BOOM!, and there we were, sort of like medieval walled cities in the sense that you were clearly outside the city, then you were inside. The vans let us out at a main hotel in the city. We didn’t really have time to mess around and observe the city. Our trip leader, Mike, needed to find a church and its pastor, Artur. They were our only hope for lodging, since there was no way to really communicate beforehand because of no mail or phones, and email was hard to come by. Unfortunately, we had no map to the church, no means of communicating with the locals.

After wandering around for what seemed hours, we found a someone who spoke enough English to (sort of) direct us in the general direction of the church. Basically, he pointed in a direction and we went that way. We split up and walked up and down streets until someone found a sign for the church. Cold, wet, and tired, we entered the back of the small building and slumped into chairs for a congregation. I think it was a Saturday.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A cake that Heather made for her sister Kim's wedding in the spring of 2001. Inside it was red velvet--yum. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 10, 2005

My Friend Heather

If you or someone you know lives in the DC area and wants to have a great, kind, creative person to make a beautiful cake for any occasion, please visit her site and give her a call. She's been baking for as long as I've known her (15 years) and has plenty of experience due to abundance of brother, sisters and nieces and nephews in her family.http://www.seibelfamily.com/cakes/index.html

Allah or Jesus?

Sent to me by Jamie Rice

Allah or Jesus? by Rick Mathes

Last month I attended my annual training session that's required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who explained each of their belief systems.

I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say. The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked: "Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world. And, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"

There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, "Non-believers!"

I responded, "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?"

The __expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, "Yes."

I then stated, "Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr.Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven!"

The Imam was speechless.

I continued, "I also have problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and He wants you to be with me?"

You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.

This is a true story and the author, Rick Mathes, is a well known leader in prison ministry.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


This Christmas, we visited the usual. Early dinners with J's grandma and dad's family in Monterrey, and his mom's family in Maryville. Christmas Eve with his mom and siblings (Jordan was in Mobile), and Christmas morning to open presents (!) then a meal with my folks. Whew!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Sir Sophie, goofy as usual Posted by Hello

sophie--close up and personal Posted by Hello

sophie on our bed, taking my spot Posted by Hello

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sophie Cat

We've had Sophie since August 2003. A tuxedo cat, I found him in a Walmart parking lot. He's got a great personality, as cats go. As an indoor/outdoor cat, we've even taught him to tap the doorknob when he wants to go out. Though he's mellowed out as he gets older, we still get the jump-on-the-bed, nose-in-the-face wake-up call each morning.