Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Moving On...

It is 3am in Slovakia on January 1, 2009 - making it 9pm in Toronto and 6pm in Vancouver on December 31, 2008.

It is like this post has traveled through time!

We rung in the new year with a service at Mozaika and then at a friends house. As the clock struck midnight we were standing on Zobor (mountain) looking down over Nitra. There are no laws governing fireworks here and so in addition to the cities fireworks display, pyrotechnics exploded from house windows, parks, street corners, cars and apartment balconies. The whole city was alive with color, light, smoke, cheers and the echo of booms careening through apartment blocks. Firework shells were literally raining down around us. We have never experienced anything like it.

And with the tick of a clock so much has changed: 2009 has begun bringing with it the end of Slovakia's national currency (the koruna or crown), heralding the arrival of the Euro, and marking Slovakia's Independence Day.

Though we do not know what this year will bring, we do know of one change coming soon. The VBC administration has told Mozaika that January 25, 2009 will be our last Sunday in their facility. They still have not turned on the heat so we use this rocket-man-esque propane heater to warm up the space (jackets and gloves still required).

We have talked to the city about buying land, but this is obviously a more long-term goal. Pray that we would find a facility that meets our needs (1 room for adults, 1 room for children, storage, weather appropriate, within the city and willing to sign a contract at a reasonable price). More than that, pray for the people of Mozaika as so much transition can take a toll on people's mentality. We want to be stronger at the end of this.

2008, with all of it's challenges and all of it's victories is behind us, and we look forward to new adventures in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wrapping Up 2008

On December 20th we had a program for kids from our church and the surrounding community. There were also some new families who came from the nearby social assistance housing. We decorated, had snacks, music, games and prizes. Every child that came got a gift that had been provided to us by Samaritan's Purse (so a big thank-you if you were someone who filled a Christmas box this year). It was a fun afternoon. Part of the program was sharing about the importance of Christmas. Even though it was oriented towards children, the adults in the room were captivated. The presenter, Martin, kept saying "the way the adults looked at me - they just stayed focus". All together it was a great relationship building time.

Then on December 21st we had a Christmas lunch for the entire church-plant. Again it was a fantastic chance for people to take the time to get to know one another better. There is something about Christmas time and food that make people more social, and more bonding as a church family is something very important right now.

On the 25th we had a Christmas service. Slovak's celebrate on the 24th so really it was only our Christmas morning that was a bit thrown off!

We celebrated Slovak Christmas on the 24th in the village of Obsolovce with the Armitage's and their Slovak family. It was especially nice for us to be in a home setting this Christmas. We got to eat the traditional meal (for the record, carp is ok). Then after dinner a bell rings to signify that Ježiško (little baby Jesus) has snuck in and put gifts under the tree.

On Christmas Day we stuck to our Canadian roots. Amber cooked a fabulous meal and we had Slovak friends over for dinner. It was our turn to watch as people were exposed to new holiday foods: sweet potatoes were a mixed success, pumpkin pie was met with forced smiles and murmurs of "how can pumpkin be a dessert", and stuffing was thought to be a little gross by some "you cook it inside of the dead bird?". We called our families and finished the night with a viewing of The Muppet's Christmas Carol. We got to repeat this fine Christmas meal on the 26th as the Armitage's celebrated Canadian style.

A great first Christmas in Slovakia.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Vianoce

Slovak's celebrate Christmas on December 24th with gifts and a large meal. Traditionally, this meal is kapustnica and kapor (cabbage soup and carp). Today we will have church in the morning and then practice some of our Christmas traditions (this may include, but is not limited to, the over-consumption of turkey, the unwrapping of gits, the Mariah Carey Christmas Album - to be followed by the declaration of "I cannot listen to anymore Mariah" - and of course the viewing of a Muppet's Christmas Carol).

This is our first Christmas as a married couple onour own and so we are excited to see what traditions of our own we innovate.

So wherever you are, whatever you are eating and whoever you are with - we trust you enjoy this day tot he fullest.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Veselé Vianoce (Merry Christmas) a la Slovak

This is our very first Christmas here in Slovakia - and there is so much to learn!

Some aspects of the holiday are very familiar - people getting together for example (but with a much stronger emphasis on family). Big meals will be had and gifts opened on December 24th. Shoes, like stockings, have already been enjoyed earlier this month.

The traditional Slovak Christmas meal is kapustnica and kapor = cabbage soup and carp. Not every Slovak is keen on this meal, but it is the traditional food of choice. We've already had kapustnica and it is very good (the carnivore in us was satisfied by the pieces of salami and ham). We are preparing ourselves for the carp; which we will be experiencing tomorrow...

The whole carp process is quite something. Shops have set-up large plastic tanks outdoors brimming with carp (at least 1 is open 24-hours). While shopping with a friend Matthew got to be a part of the carp-purchasing process:
-the store we were at had a deal: spend 2,999 crowns before tax and receive a carp and bottle of champagne FREE
-we spent enough money and then waited in the carp line
-when you get to the front, they hand you your champagne and a live carp in a plastic shopping bag (no water)
-we drove to my friends house (carp making himslef known in the back-seat)
-we filled up the bathtub and introduced the carp to his last earthly home
-since carp are river fish, people allow the carp to live in their bathtub for 2-3 days to allow the fish to clean itself in fresh water
-the fish will be killed, cleaned and served on the 24th (there is a big emphasis on having fresh carp for Christmas)

We named this carp Pan Večera (Mr.Dinner)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Leadership Conference : Spain

We just returned from assisting at NLI's 3rd ORGANIX conference at a monestary (pictured above) in El Espinar, Spain. This conference saw over 100 leaders come together from across Spain for a time of teaching and connection. We taught a seminar twice on the role creativity and problem solving plays in strong leadership. Also, we helped facilitate a team building activity on following and leading (picture of people with their eyes closed). Amber also shared in a workshop about women in ministry - this topic apparently made a big impact on a lot of the women who attended.

It was great to be a part of this event. The leaders who attended expressed how they view this conference as an integral part of their ongoing development as a movement. On a smaller scale, it was amazing to connect with people over meals (which take at least an hour-and-a-half in Spain) about where they have come from and where they are going. It was a real treat for us to be able to sit down with young couples who, like us, are learning about marriage and ministry simultaneously.

Thank you for keeping this event in your prayers - it was a success!

*wrote this post just after we returned, but posted it late

Friday, December 5, 2008

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a Little Chocolate Devil

Meet Čert (Chert).

Our language tutor taught us about a rather interesting tradition: Today, being his Name Day, many European countries celebrate Sväty Mikuláš aka Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Traditionally, on the eve of December 5th, children would polish and set out out their shoes in anticipation of Saint Nicholas' arrival. That night St. Nick would arrive by horse drawn coach and leave children either a gift or a lump of coal, depending on behavior per annum naturally. This all sounds quite familiar so far (and you thought Santa Claus was an original idea...).

In Slovak days gone by, Sväty Mikuláš was accompanied by Čert, the devil, and an angel. The devil would come rattling chains and dealt with those children whose behavior was lacking over the past year while the angel was for those more well-adjusted kids. Google and Wikipedia have loads of interesting tid bits about this tradition that is rich in history and is still practiced, in different forms, all across Central, Eastern and Northern Europe.

As is the way with most traditions, this one has grown into something different now. Today family and friends will exchange little chocolate Saint Nicholas figures. As you can see there is also the chocolate Čert option if you are wanting to deliver a clear message to a misbehaving kid, but rest assured, the child's therapist will probably here about it one day!