Friday, May 16, 2008

Wonderful Croatia

What an amazing time it was in Croatia. And the people! They were and are wonderful.

I arrived in Zagreb via Lufthansa on Monday, April 28, and was soon picked up and added to a van packed with wonderful and outgoing people. And I mean packed. We were so overloaded that a truck hauling a double trailer loaded with lumber passed us! But it was a terrific way to get acquainted, as we climbed the mountains in order to get to the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Once we arrived in Crikvenica, I was fortunate in that I didn’t speak until Wednesday night. That gave me time to recover and get to know people, including my roommate, Greg Smith, author of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger, and co-author of The Rest of The Gospel. He’s a great man, and if you haven’t read his books, I highly recommend them.

I spoke about 4 things: 1) Where is God?; 2) What’s He doing there?; 3) How can I let Him do whatever He wants?, and, 4) How can I help others to the same? (While videos will become available in the near future, you can get an idea about these topics by clicking here.)

Frankly, the first night was something of a wrestling match. Aside from the video not working and the translator having a difficult time with me (we were much better together thereafter), looking at the biblical truth of “Christ in you” was either an invigorating beginning, or it was an electric one. You were intrigued and challenged, or you were somewhat shocked. For some this was an entirely new concept. While by far the majority were delighted and excited, there were a few who had reservations and, perhaps, a bit of fear.

Fortunately, I was followed each time by Greg Smith the next morning. He is an outstanding teacher, who calmly and beautifully laid out the particular scriptures and passages to which I had referred the previous night. I loved listening to him, and could sense the lights coming on in the minds and hearts of the people. Greg and I were repeatedly struck by how well we worked together, and couldn’t imagine better teammates. What an orchestration it was.

After that, each meeting time was wonderful, even incredible, no matter who spoke. Although the conference was scheduled to conclude on Saturday afternoon, so many people told the conference leader that if I would speak again they would delay their departure, that that’s exactly what happened. And it was truly the capstone. Together we looked at a simple way in which to live by the Spirit. At various times people in the audience were encouraged to say what they were feeling and thinking, and this is some of what we heard: “I feel the presence of God.” “I’ve never felt such peace.” “I’m in awe.” “I didn’t know this could be so simple and so powerful.” “I am humbled.” I imagine the drive home for them was wonderful.

I have never been thanked so much and so deeply as I was in Croatia. It was overwhelming and humbling.

On Sunday, a bunch of us loaded up in the van again and drove to the coastal town of Pula. There we were amazed at the ancient Roman coliseum, as well as by what we found underneath it. And the extensive walk we took through the town was great. I’m always struck by how old things are in Europe, never more so than when seeing a satellite dish on the side of a two hundred year old building along an ancient cobblestone avenue. We were all impressed, even our Dutch friend, Carla. While America is a comparative infant to Europe, Holland is a teenager.

Finally, our conference organizer and tour guide, Vlado Hoblaj, deposited us in a small town outside Zagreb, where Greg and I stayed with an American missionary family. Roger Massey was one of the translators (Croatian to English) at the conference, and he always kept people relaxed and refreshed while brilliantly assisting us with the rigors of translation--he’s
a great guy. Erin (his wife) and their kids, Addie, Cameron and Ian, were wonderful to be around, as was Erin’s mother, Joyce. They were incredibly generous hosts, and I loved romping with their kids, who gave me a kind of fix while missing my own. They took us to a small sort of hamlet and a coffee house famous for desserts. It was fantastic, and the town was picturesque.

The following morning after a European style breakfast, we headed to the airport and our departures. As God would have it, I sat next to a fascinating family therapist who was returning to the States after counseling at the military base near Frankfurt, Germany. She was initially nervous with me after finding out who I am (I was, too!), but over several hours I learned of her spiritualistic, new age-y type of thinking. Actually, I often dislike those labels because they may provide a template sort of approach to conversation. She was a warm and kind and deceived sort, but we spent hours talking and comparing notes. It wasn’t long before she began asking about my beliefs, and before the end of our flight, I prayed with her about what lay ahead for her life. I fully enjoyed the trip.

And the welcome home! was better than ever.

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