Thursday, 25 July 2013

Slovakia - The End

The trip has finished. It was an interesting drive home, and not without some form of excitement, even if that involves God teaching us how to live with less money.

We spent a lovely evening in Prague after our first journey and I fell in love with the city. We had a whirlwind courtship (despite my dislike of the word) and were married by midnight. T-shirts were cheap so I bought two, partly because by this time I had run out of clean clothes several days before and we had no washing options.

We ate at a restaurant on the river, and the food was good, but the staff seemed beyond stressed. One of the waitresses was crying, our waiter seems to have done a decent job but half of the things we ordered never arrived. Eventually the other table of our group became exasperated and there was confusion with the payment ending in the staff asking us politely but firmly not to come back. Shame.

The next day we hit a bollard on the German motorway. It was a tiny construction lane, and there was a lorry to the right so I can be thankful we didn't hit that, but it came out of nowhere and scared most of us half to death. No one was hurt, and the car had no internal damage, but the rental place will charge us an arm and a leg, I have no doubt.

We spent the second night in Darmstadt with a university friend of the Aberystwyth girls. I had a doner kebab for the first time and quite liked it. Then I got in bed at 9:00 and woke up at 5:00 to head back to England.

There was heavy excitement as we approached the tunnel; I could feel that England was close again. After several close calls—details of which are strictly classified—we made several drops and landed in Birmingham with 30 seconds to spare before the hire company shut and we couldn't return the vehicle till the next day.

Despite the stress, it was a great trip. I would do it again. We drove almost 3000 miles in total, which I realise isn't even the distance across the US. But it does mean I can cross six new countries off my list.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Slovakia - Discovery Camp

Dear all,

Have I ever mentioned that the missionary world is sadly lopsided in favour of the female sex? It’s not as fun as it sounds, trust me.

Discovery Camp is over and we are moving on in the morning (or have already moved, if the internet doesn’t become available before I put this up). I am sorry not to have written more, but it was a long and full week and there was limited internet. In any case, it was better that I focus on the campers and my activities as English teacher than be writing home and neglecting opportunities here.

Camp days run very similarly: 7:45 is devotions for the team; 8:30 is breakfast; 9:30-10:30 is Bible Study; 11:15 to 12:45 is English lesson; 1:00 is lunch; 2:30-4:30 is afternoon activity of various sorts, and then dinner is at 6:00 with evening event at 7:30 followed by relaxed café atmosphere at 9:30.

We played a variety of indoor and outdoor games, had a murder mystery afternoon (for which I was a Scottish gamekeeper dressed in kilt attire), after which I played the bagpipe and had photos taken with most of the campers to whom a bagpipe was a relatively foreign concept. Several of the girls wanted to learn how to play, so I attempted to teach them, but the lung capacity takes months to build up to, so after becoming rather red-faced with puffing, they relinquished their dream of playing such a magnificent instrument, and settled to posing in photos holding it.

On Friday evening I taught two Ceilidh dances and the Slovaks then taught us traditional Slovak folk dances. In the end, I danced from 8:30 to 1:30 in the morning, knowing it was the last night for many of the campers. I believe I’m starting to get the hang of this thing you call dancing. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.

We had an arts evening on Thursday where I read out and had translated a portion from my book, followed by short interview with me (writers, represent), an actress, a singer, and an artist from the camp leader teams. 

I’ve spent a lot of time teaching English one on one and being taught Slovak, with an emphasis on the romantic phrases. I have picked more up than I expected to, surrounded as I am with the language at every side. As I tell people here, if there’s only one part of a language you learn, it’s best to learn how to compliment people. I assure you, it will take you farther than knowing how to count (a skill, incidentally, I have also acquired).

By now (Sunday) the days have all run together. On Wednesday we went up to the High Tatras (pictures forthcoming), the pride and joy of all Slovaks. They are beautiful. After climbing for a couple of hours, taking pictures, enjoying a leisurely packed lunch, we descended and arrived back at the centre in time for dinner.

One afternoon was spent teaching the Slovaks my American accent. I am proud to say they didn’t succumb to its subtleties, but we all laughed very hard at the attempts. They are willing and able students, and eager to please their teacher. I quite like teaching, the more I do it.

This is nearly all I have to say at the moment. I will prepare a longer newsletter at the end of the summer, with updates from the whole season. For now, thanks for reading, and thanks for praying.

Love to all,


Monday, 15 July 2013

Slovakia - Several Days, Berlin, Prague, Poprad (Slovakia)

Dear All,

I haven’t had time to write for the last couple of days so I’ll try to squeeze everything into this update.
All day on Friday we drove through Belgium, the Netherlands, and most of Germany, arriving in Berlin around 8:00pm. We joined the Berlin CU for dinner and then their CU meeting, which was a great encouragement and loads of fun. Afterwards, the girls headed to their house and Dan and I drove to ours.
I didn’t sleep very well, as my bedding was a series of couch cushions that kept sliding apart from each other during the night. They didn’t do wonders for my back, and I got up feeling that I’d been run over by a truck. I wasn’t sure if it was the bed or all the driving for the past two days. And yet, I’m thankful that we were alive and safe in Berlin after all the complicated driving and switching sides of the road, getting used to being on the right side of the car, and enduring the—at times conflicting—advice from my lovely passengers.
Lara, our team leader, joined us in Berlin and we went on a tour of the city till 3:00 in the afternoon. I saw the Brandenburg Gate, Frederick’s Palace, various exteriors of famous museums, a fish tank elevator, the Jewish memorial, the place Hitler died, and of course the remains of the East/West Berlin wall. It’s a very interesting place. I would like to go back.
The drive commenced to Prague after that, and we made decent time, though still in excess of our plans. The Czech Republic is beautiful, a bit like a poor Switzerland. After a long, complicated attempt to park in the vicinity of the hostel, we were gathered in one place at last and made our way to dinner. I have so many different currencies in my pocket right now; Koruna, Euro, Pound, with various denominations of each to the point that I have to pick through them to pay for anything.
I had the cheapest goulash I could find on the menu, which was not a bad price at all considering Germany and Belgium. Then all 10 of us trooped home and I snuck off to use the internet and Facetime for a few minutes as well as attempt to catch up on emails. Remind me never to do this with my summer again! It’s wonderful and exciting and complicated and frustrating and nail-bitingly difficult to juggle all at once. I love, hate and despair over it simultaneously.
We hit the road early, because we’re coming back to Prague in a week’s time and so wanted to get the long drive over with as soon as possible. For the most part, our journey through Slovakia included astounded ‘Ahhs!’ and ‘Oohs!’ over the spectacular scenery, the mountains and valleys, the castles perched precariously on the outermost edge of a cliff, the towns nestled in a gorge and the rivers that run through everything. Then we got pulled over by the police.
Turns out, you can’t drive without a road permit, so they fined us €100 (€50 each vehicle) and instructed us to buy the permits at our next opportunity. The girls found the officer quite fit. I can’t disagree.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Arguments happened, stony silences (like after the time one of the girls insulted all home schoolers), loud music to drown out disagreements, laughter, and then, at long last, the journey was over and we had arrived in Poprad, Slovakia.
We ate dinner, then played some get-to-know you games with the Slovakia team for a couple of hours, and ended it all with a cup of tea. I didn’t realise how much I missed my tea till they offered it to me. Even if it wasn’t Yorkshire, I survived.
I got into bed at a decent time, exhausted, and am now awake on Sunday morning before breakfast catching up on what I can with my computer but without internet.

I love and miss you all, 


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Slovakia - Day One: Antwerp

Dear All,

The journey has begun. I am writing from a church in Antwerp where we are staying, but won’t send this until we get to Berlin and I have some internet.

Jo and her dad dropped me off at the car place and we hired the vehicle with no difficulty, despite the stressed Lara’s many emails and texts. There was a bit of trouble to start off with; I noticed the vehicle was acting strangely, and when attempting to move from first to second gear, would continually stall out. My fear immediately was that I had forgotten completely how to drive in the last seven months, and did my best not to panic. We limped along, and the girls—bless them—didn’t say anything but as I later discovered were extraordinarily nervous, fearing they had put their trust and their lives into unsafe hands. A moment later I realised the emergency brake was on, took it off, and the car drove normally from that point on.
We had a few hiccoughs after that, but nothing so frightening or unnerving. In hindsight, it was hilarious.
The second car was separated from us, we got lost in London, and ended up getting the later Eurotrain, but all in all it was a lovely journey and we had up to 4 drivers at once so if I had died I am sure the girls’ expert driving advice would have kept us from harm.
We arrived in Antwerp in the evening and squeezed into a parallel parking space with inches to spare on either end. A late dinner at an outdoor café followed by a walk around the castle and the riverfront ended our evening and I got in bed several hours earlier than I have done in the past few weeks. Today we’re driving to Berlin, where I will update this further and relate any of the more hilarious stories that are best suited to telling with written word, saving the orally suited tales for an in-person situation.

Okay so I haven’t had time to write an update from Antwerp to Berlin. Know that I am safe and will write when I can.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Glasgow - Week Two

I updated everyone pretty regularly for the first week. That's partly because I had more time because the events were less well attended than the ones for the second week. It's partly because I was more tired, and partly because I had other things on my mind that kept me from making the time to update.

This will be an update for the second week of my travels in Glasgow, followed by a prep-update for Slovakia (which starts tomorrow! Yay!).

Monday - Spanish Night
Tuesday - Pancake Night
Wednesday - Day Off
Thursday - Ceilidh
Friday - Café and Music
Saturday - Birmingham

The Spanish night went very well and I led a Bible study in it with 25 or more people, many of whom had never attended Bible Study before. I led the study on Thursday as well with a similar turnout. I was asked by someone from Sri Lanka if I was a pastor, and had to disappoint him by telling him I was a student. Someone else told me to present for the BBC. I think I missed my calling as a con artist. Or maybe an out-of-work actor.

We had a lot of great discussions each evening. There was a new team for week two, with the loss of one girl and the addition of three more. What is it with women in world mission? You just can't get away from them.

During the days we had devotions and training sessions, followed by lunch and contact time as per usual, and in week two we saw a lot of people coming to the events who had received a flyer. That was encouraging. I had a long chat with a Muslim fellow who was a judge in Libya for 10 years and is now doing his PhD in International Commercial Law. He was fascinating, and we sparked a conversation about the Bible after I told him my name. I guess I have mum and pop to thank for that one.

The end of the week was so encouraging. The café and music night was relaxed and fun, even if they did make me sing in front of everyone...twice... The atmosphere was good, we had a good turnout, relationships were built, and I think everyone felt like it ended on a high.

I met people from dozens of countries around the world, learned to interact with innumerable cultures, led Bible Studies, started conversations with strangers, built a friendship and community with a team I had never met, made relationships in Glasgow that will last and bring me back either for GIO next year, or even with Relay to live. It's such a wonderfully multi-cultural city, and for the first time I'm not saying that with any kind of grievance. Nationalism breeds subliminal racism, and if there's anything God hates it's racism in any kind. It makes a mockery of what He did on the Cross, and should be cut out of the church so deep there is never any chance of its return. Our citizenship is not on earth, and therefore our loyalties should lie with no country or nation based on the proximity of its headquarters to our place of birth or upbringing. There will be no argument.

I have spent the last three days with Jo in Birmingham preparing for Slovakia. I will embark early tomorrow to hire the car and set off for Antwerp, Belgium which is our first destination. Pray for safe travels, a smooth hiring of the car, and alertness for one driver who is unused to British roads and British cars. (That's me, by the way.)

I will do my best to update often in Slovakia, but do not know the internet availability where I will be so panic not if you do not hear from me. It is unlikely I have been taken by bandits.