Where you find love, there is the church. Where there is no love, the church is not there either. We are not free to make up our own definition of love. God Himself is love and must be present and glorified in His truth as He describes Himself to us through His revealed word to us. He has given us specific ways to recognize what true love is.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
Those that seek power through manipulation redefine love so that their prey will submit to something different. Something that feeds the desires of the predator and leaves the vulnerable weak and drained, instead of built up. All the recent news headings about sexual abuse among the Independent Fundamental Churches, allegations within the IMB, and seminaries are overwhelming. Even more difficult than the abuse itself has been the cover ups that have allowed it to continue. This is not the church of our living Savior.
Trust is not blind and does not ignore warning signs, but rather is earned over time through a relationship bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
John 2:23-25 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I'm not going to be able to please everyone. The crowd is fickle and subject to change as public opinion changes. We have been judged pretty harshly for many of our decisions regarding how we live and choose to bring up our children. Some people believe they have been exposed to too much, and some that they have been sheltered. As our children grow and are now becoming adults, I rest easier daily knowing that our consciences are captive to the word of God, and not the changing and contradictory opinions of others who often do not have fruit in their own lives or the lives of their children.
Amy accompanies Abby and Anna to school here on the bus. We have been assured that Slovenia is a safe country and we don't have to worry. However the stories of some of the kids at the school shed light on a different story. One of the girl's classmates was a victim of an attempted mugging, but he fought back and was able to escape. He went to the police and they took it very seriously seeking to find out what happened and bring the attackers to justice. A female classmate of theirs was subject to sexual harassment by the bus driver and one of the passengers on the public bus as she traveled alone. The stories just show that Ljubljana is a normal city, and normal healthy precautions need to be observed. Our kids have a pretty keen sense of awareness regarding their surroundings because they have seen humanity at its worst, and know what lies beneath a beautiful veneer.
On the other side of the coin in recent news has been music artists avoiding calling lifestyle choices and practices forbidden by scripture for the sin that they are. This is not love either. This doesn't represent the truth or the God of love that gave us His word so that we could know truth from lies. The truth must be spoken in love, but it must be spoken. We are not free to define our own terms.
The spiritual battle is just as real here as anywhere, even though it is shrouded in refined European culture that can be disarming. The good news is that the relative safety has offered the opportunity for us all to come out of our shell and heal from the dramatic intensity of the last few years. We are all growing in Christ and also closer together as a family. Emotions are much more level and laughter comes easier than it has for a long time.
There are certainly comforts here that don't exist in many parts of the world, and I thank God for them drawing strength for the battle. The culture shock is fairly mild and of a different kind than I've experienced before. When shopping for food, clothes, or other necessities the abundance of choices is overwhelming and often exhausting because we are learning what's available while seeking what we need. Thank God for Google translate and good internet! I had kind of an intense day after some bad dreams and was feeling overwhelmed. I looked up to see the Golden Arches and decided to go in for some comfort food. It is really great how they have managed to make a Big Mac taste like a Big Mac no matter where you are in the world.
One of the other missionaries allowed me to borrow his van while he and his family were in the United States so I could see what it was like to drive in Ljubljana. I tried different routes, compared parking prices, driving times, gas prices, and guesstimated maintenance costs to biking and bus. I was fairly decided that I didn't want to have a car here already, but then got stuck in complete gridlock one morning and crept along a distance of 3 KM that took nearly an hour and a half. Floods of feelings and memories of countless hours sitting vulnerable in Haitian gridlock came rushing back convincing me that bikes and public transportation were much more appealing than vehicle ownership.
Parking is a premium in Ljubljana, and if you are blessed enough to find a space you are going to have to pay for it. Biking and walking seem to provide such a sense of freedom here compared to having a vehicle. For residents, we have been able to purchase a bus pass that is one price for the entire month. We'll try this car-less lifestyle for a while and see what happens. For now it feels like Mel Gibson portraying William Wallace yelling “FREEDOM!”.
The bike lanes seem like they are everywhere and will take you to any destination, until you get on a bike and try to follow them. This becomes an adventure all in itself as bike lanes end abruptly with a sign that says no bikes allowed. Normally there is an alternate route, but they are not ideal and could take much longer than a direct route. In this case the locals just take the direct route and ignore the signs. I guess this is a case where following a rule too strictly that doesn't make sense and is not enforced would not provide much advantage. The way around this would be just to walk the bike in these areas and you can easily follow the rule and take the route, but most people just keep riding slowly.
Lots of people ride bikes and walk regardless of the weather. Seems like a good plan to me. When the weather is just too bad, the bus provides a great option. Everyone seems to agree and the bus on those days can get quite crowded during peak travel times. This all is not without order, though. There are the “bus police”.
They are uniformed officers of the law and seem to be the same two guys that spend their days and evenings riding the buses and keeping order. They come on board together. One has a machine to check the validity of your bus pass, and the other with a very visible set of handcuffs for the purpose of restraining unruly offenders. Bosco is allowed on the bus, but must have a muzzle. The bus police have looked intensely at his muzzle, but move on in seeming approval. Bosco has been such a wonderful conversation starter as Slovenians love dogs and freely bring them everywhere.
Christmas in Ljubljana was an interesting experience. We decided to head to the city center for the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. There was a choir singing and a countdown to turn the lights on. We got there a little early and made our way right next to the tree thinking we had found the best spot. The spot was wonderful for the actual ceremony, but then we became stuck in an endless sea of humanity that made the gridlock on the road look like an open expanse of empty plain. I have been in lots of crowds, but this one surpassed them all as we crept along trying to escape the massive populace and break once more into a sense of individuality. Sometimes we were carried slowly along at the will of the crowd, other times we were crushed making even taking a breath become a cherished grace, other times we just stood not moving and wondering if we would be stuck for the rest of our days. Finally we escaped the crushing mob and vowed to avoid the city center in case of another large event.
Amid the quaint coffee shops and cobblestone streets lurk an era reminiscent of subjugation to tyranny. At times it is manifest in graffiti such as “phones tapped!” or “better dead than red!”. We had a guest speaker talk to our church describing his specific area of Slovenia as a valley of dry bones. Not only spiritually, but physically. After World War II there were mass killings in his area and the mass graves still exist on the outskirts of the city as a reminder that all is not well. The local populace still bears the marks of the traumatic events. Even though Slovenia was spared the most horrific pieces of the Yugoslavian breakup, a darkness still flows that can be felt.
I guess any big city anywhere can have interesting things that manifest from time to time that seem completely random and disrupt the thought processes of witnesses. I was eating a local Balkan food known as bürek, and observing people passing by when I heard a sound like a lawnmower. I looked up to see a sight that took me several moments to process. There was a disabled man navigating an electric wheelchair down the bike lane. The wheelchair was not powered by the intended battery pack, instead the necessary electricity was provided by a small generator strapped to the back spewing black smoke from the exhaust. The power source, while adequate, was not consistent, and caused the forward motion to be sporadic as the man sputtered forward in lurches and slightly uncontrolled jerking from side to side.
Being so immersed into urban life, it is difficult to imagine the wildlife that inhabits the surrounding
countryside. The moment the city ends, the countryside and forests begin. My neighbor was explaining to me bears and wolves inhabit the very visible hills that can easily be observed in the distance. One of the school teachers hails from the Netherlands, but has landed here in Slovenia. There is a bear research project in the hills near her home, and she carries a very large scar as a reminder of the time she was attacked by a lynx. She remains indebted to her dog for escaping with her life. Good thing Slovenia sells and allows the carry of pepper spray.
It is great to see how God has gifted our kids individually in areas that are so vastly different than us as parents. Luke has really enjoyed getting to know the fashion community here, and the Lord has opened so many conversations for him to be able to share the gospel through the connections he is making. It never ceases to amaze me how God will use the most unlikely things to bring glory to His name.
One of the best parts of International Church is the mid week bible study. We meet at the home of one of the members. They are so hospitable and such a spirit of love and peace exist in their home as they share hospitality with regulars as well as visitors. The discussions are always deep, edifying, and meaningful. I always leave feeling loved and built up. This week after bible study we missed our regular bus and had to take an unfamiliar one to the center to catch the bus to our house. Lance tried to tell us which stop to get off, but I ignored him and ended up having to walk quite a ways. Moral of the story – Lance is the bus expert – always listen to Lance in all matters bus related. As we were walking the distance to our next bus stop we saw our bus going there ahead of us. In a moment of defeated disappointment we stopped walking as we watched it pass by knowing the next bus was 30 minutes away. As we spent a moment looking at each other, Luke just put on a big grin and took off running. The rest of the kids followed suit while Amy and I trailed behind. She was moving so slowly in her large winter jacket that she has dubbed her “sleeping bag”. It is very warm, but does not lend itself to running after a bus.
Luke made it there first, then Lance got stuck in the doors causing the bus driver to pause and wait for the twins. Amy was laughing so hard and running so slowly. I was dragging her by the hand as the feeling like one of those bad dreams where your legs won't move as you try to run passed in waves over me. By the grace of God we made it on the bus with the kids. We were laughing so hard and I tried to be respectful by offering a “hvala lepa” “thank you very much” to the bus driver. He just stared back un-amused and drove away.
The transient nature of life continues here as I write this blog post from a Slovenian coffee shop. We rent the space for the International Church service from a Slovenian church which means it is not always available for use. There is a sense of true discipleship in the transiency, but also a longing for some permanent space and consistency. That is a major reason why I'm here, so prayerfully we can look forward to some more established space and schedules as the Lord leads.
At times I don't dream when I sleep. At other times I have good dreams. Sometimes all of the family seems to have dreams that offer insight into the spiritual. We've come to realize that may times certain things can manifest in our dreams such as spiritual attack, blessing, or warning. It's not always so clear, what the specific meaning is, but just that we need to be aware. We have been having dreams lately and they seem to be warning us about something. So we could definitely use the prayers of the saints.
God continues to confirm his calling on us here as we have now all received our resident permits. We received these in record time and the church members that we are closest with recognize this as the favor of God. In this world we will have trouble, but our Savior told us to take heart because He has overcome the wold. We are soldiers, may we fight well in the name of our Lord for the battle belongs to Him.