26th June – 2nd July
We had our farewell party this week. We hugged our students goodbye knowing that we’ll hardly see any of them before they go home. We’re trusting them into God’s hands – not that they were really ever anywhere else. But it was also Liv’s farewell – so sad! Just in case I haven’t talked about her enough, she’s my flatmate and workmate and general do-everything-together-mate. She’s been the biggest tangible blessing this year and keeps me sane, sometimes keeps me on task, but more often is a distraction.
People often don’t believe us when we say we’ve only known each other since August last year. We’ve basically laughed, eaten and cycled our way through the past ten months, and done it all arm in arm. We’ve had mornings of laying on the couch reflecting on the endless rain and fog. We’ve had afternoons of exploring Ljubljana and drinking coffee with students while talking about Jesus. We’ve had evenings sitting around the dinner table and discussing the theology of hospitality and women in ministry. We’ve had nights of entertaining far more people than our little flat can handle and staying up well past-midnight as we chat and wash-up. We’ve gone on adventures all around Slovenia and had forays into Italy and Croatia as we simultaneously console each other and rejoice in life in another country and culture.
There’s the constant tension that comes in any female relationship of loving each other and being able to laugh at anything together, but always being subtly competitive. By God’s grace that has never flared up into any real arguments or issues but has instead shaped both of us to strive together for greater humility and godliness. She has been one of my life’s most wonderful triggers for growth in my faith – whether through encouragement or rebuke. We have mourned many family tragedies together over the past year and had evenings of collapsing into tears and crying out to God together, but we have also mourned the brokenness of the world and even the brokenness of ourselves together. And time and time again God has provided comfort in her. Whether through prayer, head-strokes, hugs, a telling glance, or some well-timed wit she has been the answer to umpteen prayers this year. I’m so thankful for her and I pray she is just as much of a blessing as she goes home as she is to me here.
Proverbs 18:24 One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
3rd – 9th July
We had a few days of planning meetings for ZVES this week. We were looking at the direction of ZVES into the near future, and a little more long term. It is a very different sort of meeting to one for Credo, the university Christian group I worked for in Australia. It is a meeting brimming with uncertainty, we don’t know if we’ll even have students in Ljubljana, we don’t know if our two students in Koper will stay firm or if our group in Maribor will finally be bold enough to start doing evangelism. We are a building a vision for not just growth, but continued existence, and thus utterly dependent on the Lord. It was one of those moments, which I’ve had a lot of this year, where I was reminded that everything is in His hands. We make plans and develop visions, we discuss and debate what the needs are of ZVES and the students, we analyse Slovene church and university culture, but only God knows. And so we everything brings us pack to prayer.
I’m reading Proverbs at the moment and there are many verses which capture the way God is sovereign over our plans, but I think this one is perfectly apt. We plan, and we pray that it is in accordance with God’s will, because it is His will which is done, and thank God for that! I wouldn’t want any other kingdom to come!
Proverbs 16:9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
10th – 16th July
This week Liv left to go home, my supervisor went home for her holidays and my friend came from Sydney to visit. Thus began the summer period of my time here – one marked by transitory friends (actually that’s basically been my year). I had a hilarious day though, which taught me something valuable for these next two months. Just after Liv and my supervisor went home, a couple of friends and I went down to the coast for the day. Half way through the day I realised I didn’t have the house key. We started looking around all the places we had been, particularly in amongst some boulders we had climbed over to get to the water. A lovely German family (who only spoke German, which made it a bit more interesting) joined us in searching semi-frantically for the key. A storm whipped up from across the sea with winds so strong we were being pushed backwards, and we were still searching. After a couple of hours, we gave up and started heading back. On the journey home I realised I had no one to stay with in Ljubljana. All the people I knew in Ljubljana had either gone home or were away on holiday. It was such a weird feeling, to think I had been here for a year, but I still had no one I could go to in my city when I was locked out. And so again I was utterly dependent on God. Either He worked a miracle and we found my key or we were staying in a hostel until we got a hold of a new key. But I felt remarkably calm, thank you Lord!
We got back and my friend went off to check the bikes while I rang my boss (who lives in another city). As I was on the phone and he was explaining he could drop his key off to me a bit after midnight, she ran in holding my key and praising God! I had left it locked in my bike lock! The fact that it wasn’t stolen is absolutely a miracle – bike theft is almost as regular as coffee in Ljubljana. I was so relieved. But it didn’t shake the unsettling sense of being alone.
I’m only short term here, I go home in a few months, but I’ve tasted the loneliness of being a missionary. Don’t forget your missionaries, they are caught between two worlds – one where they left their friends behind, and one where all their friends are work. It can be desperately lonely. And that’s leads to what I was reminded of that day – don’t ever under value what it means to have God as a friend. Being able to call Jesus friend is what makes being a missionary liveable, joyous even. It is also why they went in the first place, to live out Jesus’ friendship and share it with others.
John 15:12-17 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
17th – 23rd July
My two weeks off started this week, and after last week, being struck by the friendship of God, He reminded me of the goodness of the blessing of friends. I travelled to Budapest for a couple of days with Amanda, my friend visiting, and then to Linz (after a few train debacles) to meet up with some other friends from church back home. There are four of us studying/working in ministry in this little corner of Europe, and it was such a joy to see them!
All five of us had been here for a year already or had previously lived for a year in Europe. We were able to talk about all the struggles of living on the opposite side of the world, the battles with homesickness, living in countries that are so culturally disparate, speaking different languages, not settling properly into churches, and just generally being isolated and ‘different’. But we were also able to rejoice together in all the things God had taught us, all the ways we had been humbled, and all the fun new things we had been able to do. We could say bits and pieces in four different languages and talk about all the parts of our cultures that we loved and wanted to take home. We cycled through the wine region of Austria, caught a ferry down the Danube, drank Melange and ate Sachertorte in Vienna, and wandered around Bratislava. But the true beauty in our time together was being together. Even just knowing these wonderful people have been in nearby countries this past year has been such an encouragement, and hanging out with them was even more so. Praise God for friendships! Surely the Teacher was wise when he wrote about the incredible value of friendship.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
24th – 30th July
I spent the past few days in Munich visiting my boyfriend. There are so many things I could write about doing long-distance. He came to Germany in February to do a semester of study, he gets back to Sydney a little after me – just before our two year anniversary. When he gets home we will have been dating for 24 months: five of those living in the same city, 19 months in different countries and 11 of those on opposite sides of the world. Saying goodbye gets easier, but it’s never easy. Even cycling to his Bible study leaders’ apartment at 10:30pm conjures up the some of the same emotions that go with watching him wave goodbye as I leave on the bus back to Ljubljana. I’m thoroughly looking forward to being back in the same city in two months! But all the same, I wouldn’t want to have done it any differently.
I had always worried that if I dated someone they would distract me from God, I love singleness for that reason. Singleness is an incredible gift and joy (and I said that while single and I stand by it now, dating) in the way you are able to serve God and His people with undivided attention. Doing long-distance you get a lot of the perks of being single – like independence and time, but with a slight constant pang of seriously missing someone, that sometimes wells up to be just seriously missing them. But the real blessing of long-distance is the way it has taught me to be prayerful.
I often think of long-distance in a similar way to fasting (only if you fasted for this long, you might die, so please don’t). Whenever you’re hungry, you’re meant to pray and thus be reminded of your dependence on God. Whenever I miss him, I pray – first for him, and then for everything else, until I’m distracted and overwhelmed by the goodness and glory of God. But more than that, missing him reminds me that Jesus is the ultimate love of my life! In Matthew 9 John’s disciples ask why Jesus and His disciples don’t fast and He answers, rather cryptically, that you cannot fast while the bridegroom is present, but they will when He is gone. We are waiting in a great fast, we – the church, Christ’s bride – are hanging in suspense, eagerly waiting to come into the magnificent wedding banquet of our beloved Jesus. In the meantime we pray, we read our Bibles, we have fellowship, we wonder at creation – all little tasters of the awesome satisfaction and joy we will one day have in heaven.
So sitting across from my boyfriend this week and then going home to Ljubljana, I was reminded of that. The thing I love most about my boyfriend (and there are lots) is the way that he constantly points me closer to God. In being with him I am reminded of what a delight it is to spend time with someone you love, and in praying together I am so thankful for the way his heart is oriented towards Christ. But in leaving him I am so thankful for the way missing him points me to Christ still, and the even greater delight we have in our first and everlasting love, Jesus.
Matthew 9:14-15 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.