Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This is Not One of Those Stories

We're not sure how much we have mentioned this, but for the last few months we have been babysitting a friends car as they are out of country. Like all babysitting gigs this has come with some sweet perks - like mobility, an easier time grocery shopping, the ability to help others be mobile and hauling a variety of things for Mozaika - and a few moments of stress.

This morning we took the car in for an oil change. To be completely transparent, neither of us knows that much about cars or feels super confident strolling into a garage and knowing what needs to be done...toss in a whole new set of Slovak vocabulary that we certainly do not use on a daily basis. With the aid of a cell phone, two friends and the internet, we now understand that our simple oil change has grown into a list of essential repairs.

This is not one of those miraculous stories from overseas workers where the skies open up and a new car (with Matthew sized leg room and excellent fuel mileage) falls from the heavens.

As we left the garage (over six-and-a-half hours ago), Matthew asked God to keep the price range around a specific number we knew we could handle. From our estimations we are currently over double that number. Here's the kicker - recently we were given some fun money from friends and family. We had squirreled it away and Matthew started to dream enjoyable, memory making methods to spend it; Amber however had tucked away a previous lesson learned (yes, Amber is often a step ahead). Past experience has taught us that when we get a little disposable income it usually means there is an unforeseen expense coming our way. Even with the use of our fun money, this repair bill will still end up being a "put on the credit card and pay off in installments" kind of scenario - but we are not broken.

We are learning that God does care about our dreams and the small perks that enrich life; but beyond what we want, He is taking care of what we need - even before we know we need it.

So, is this a miraculous story? Yes.

Will Hollywood make a movie of it? No.

Is it a foundational lesson in trust? You better believe it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Love my City Report - Klokočina Fair and Kids Programs

The Klokočinský jarmok (Klokočina Fair) is one of the 3 largest annual events in Nitra and it is estimated that 10,000 people attend each year. The I Love my City team went bright and early (like very early) on Saturday morning to clean the entire fair grounds of Friday's garbage. The organizers were shocked that we actually showed up to do this, despite our repeated promises to be there. With the grounds cleaned and skies beginning to shower, we set up our I Love my City booth - in prime territory right next to the main stage. We were ready to go with hundreds of hot dogs and drinks to give out for free (paid for by Convoy of Hope), free coffee donated by Nescafe and free food parcels for families in need (provided by Convoy of Hope). We also had face paint and balloon animals a plenty for the kids. ACET, an AIDS and drug awareness program, was also present and had a display at the booth. We were ready - and so was the rain. It poured for the first portion of the day, but the show must go on!

We had been given a 1 hour time slot on the main stage and so Mozaika put on a kids presentation that talked about Jesus as our friend. Later that day the skies cleared and the crowds came. The hot dogs, drinks, coffee and food parcels all made it to the masses. On Sunday we were given another performance time on the main stage and then rushed to the Main City Park where the performance took place again as part of the city's summer kids program. The weather was in our favour on Sunday and the time in the park was a highlight as it was not transient foot traffic, but people came specifically to see the show and stayed for the whole presentation. We are excited to see where these new connections take us.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Love my City Report - Connecting Points

Making a visible impact on the city was a high priority but having points of connection was equally as important. We built in times where people from the teams and people from Mozaika could build relationships with people from the community. We ran ads in the local newspaper, put posters on doors, had posters placed on the city events boards, handed out flyers and had a press release for the radio advertising two big connecting points. One of the ways in which we connected was by hosting a Canada vs. Slovakia sports night. Slovakia emerged the victor by a single point in the soccer match (for which Matthew played for Team Slovakia...though with his lack of skill it might have been more helpful for Team Canada). We were not flooded with people, but there were new relationships made with the people that did come.

The other community connection point was a Picnic in the Park evening. We hosted this in the main city park near the stage (where later in the week we would put on a kids performance). Again we were not overwhelmed by people, but there were new connections made with those who did come and we are so thrilled by this - we do not base our success on numbers. Past experience has taught us not to underestimate these first steps.

Following our week of prayer we kicked-off the project with a night of praise and prayer. We had worship in both Slovak and English and there was such a sense of energy, excitement and fullness in the room. It was one of those moments where it was impossible to be still. On the Sundays Pastor Kim (from Liberty Pentecostal Church in Bowmanville ON) and Pastor Ryan (from Bethel Community Church in Edmonton AB) shared honest and encouraging thoughts with Mozaika. We appreciated what they had to say. The Alberta team was also able to plant a Maple tree in the main city park to honour their friend and youth leader, Mike Abma, who passed away shortly before the project. As they shared stories about Mike we felt like we were benefiting from his influence on the team.

Another large aim was to build Mozaika's connection with the City. Through our service at the Community Centre and our assistance at the Klokočina Fair we made quite a splash with city officials. The most notable was the Vice-Mayor of Nitra who surprised us all by attending Mozaika last Sunday. Considering we had trouble getting a meeting with City Hall last year, the growth in this relationship is amazing.

I Love my City Report - Work Project

Komunitné Centrum (literally Community Centre) is an organization that serves as host to several social programs housed in one building. With their municipal funding completely cut over a year ago, the two directors have faced many challenges to keep the facility running. Located in Klokočina, Nitra's most populous sector, this facility is surrounded by apartment blocks full of children and young families. The actual building and grounds have fallen into disrepair as the majority of this former school building is completely abandoned and has become a place where drug users, homeless people and kids who are bored and want to smash stuff come to spend time. Matthew was given his own private tour of the building by two local boys, Adam and Peter (maybe 8 years old), over broken windows and bottles, around needles, through the part they set on fire, and stealthily through the part where the homeless people live. The surrounding yard and play spaces were overgrown with thistles and tall grass, not to mention the garbage, glass and needles. With Mozaika looking at buying property in Klokočina, it seemed like the perfect place to start building a relationship.

We did a little pre-work before the teams arrived to make sure there was some usable outdoor space before the kids camp began on Monday. The teams then set to work, everyday from Monday to Friday, making this space a usable one. There was garbage, glass and needle clean-up. Followed by weeding (which turned into only getting the ones with spikes once we realized how many weeds there actually were). There was a lot of weed whacking (until both weed whackers died...and then we kicked it old school with 2 sheaths) to get the grass down to a manageable height. It then took at least two runs with a lawn mower to get everything to look like a lawn. The holes in the yard were filled in with dirt. There was also the trimming, and sometimes accidental removal, of trees. This all sums up nicely, but it took 15 people several days to do this.

With the yard ready for action, we were also able to smash out the broken windows (admittedly, it was fun to break stuff) and then board up those windows and doorways to make the area around the yard safer. We also painted lines on the basketball court and put the Mozaika logo at centre court (we love the fact that it is the only place in Nitra where our logo is permanent and sealed with 3 coats of varnish). The teams brought some colour to the centre by painting a large portion of the fencing and the events board. We also dug up the play structures and poured cement bases for them to prevent further theft. The inside signage for the centre was also given a new look by the team.

With our bright blue "I Love my City / Mozaika" shirts we attracted a lot of attention (we had quite the audience from surrounding balconies). With our event banner prominently displayed there was no question of what was going on. It was empowering when people would stop and express their amazement at what was being done. The directors of the centre repeatedly expressed their thanks. The Vice-Mayor of Nitra even visited and got involved in some of the work. One of the goals of this project was to gain visibility for Mozaika: check!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I Love my City Report - Kids Camp

The kids camp, entitled "A Journey Full of Adventure", ran daily from Monday to Friday. The core team running the camp were people from Mozaika. Each day some of the Canadians helped out and did English lessons. Attendance peeked at just over 30 children, which is excellent seeing as Mozaika is 50 people. It was a good mix of children from the church and children from the surrounding apartment blocks. There were games, stories, crafts, face painting and a fun introduction to Jesus and the Bible.

On Thursday and Friday, Athletes in Action came with their inflatable bouncy castle and we transformed the yard into a series of games and challenges. With music and invitations to join the fun playing from our speaker system, there were lots of smiling faces. There was also a dance workshop and the kids had a chance to perform at the final event on Friday. With parents there to watch it was a great chance for Mozaika people to connect with families by giving out info cards and through conversation. Overall, it was an activity filled afternoon for the campers and kids from the neighborhood.

On Saturday September 5th, Mozaika hosted a follow-up event at the community centre. We have committed to doing a monthly kids event there in order to keep building on the relationships made during the I Love my City project. 16 children came to this event including 2 new children from the apartment blocks.

The school year has already begun here in Slovakia and we are glad that we have built new connections through this camp and we are excited to see how they grow throughout this year.