Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Settling Back in the UK...

It's hard to believe that it's been a month and a half since I last posted and nearly a month since I arrived back in the UK. Many of you will know that the end of my time in Slovenia didn't exactly go to plan. Just under two weeks before I was due to fly my housemates came into potential contact with the virus. They immediately quarantined themsleves for two weeks and I was left in the difficult situation of trying to work out what was the best way for me to act. In the end I made the decision not to go on the church weekend away. I was very upset at the time as that was due to be the place where I said all my goodbyes. Fortunately I'd been able to spend time with people before we locked ourselves down so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. I also paid to get a test because I needed to know for certain whether I could fly or not. Thank God it was negative and so I was able to travel as planned. 

I spent the first week with my parents which was lovely. I was absoutely exhausted and drained from all the emotions of leaving Slovenia. Who knew that reverse culture shock can include tiredness above and beyond jet lag! I also spent the time dealing with all the practicalities of moving country and getting all my possessions organised. 

I have now been in Swindon for about 2 and a half weeks and I feel like I'm starting to get some sense of normality and routine. I'm sorry I have no pretty pictures this week. Swindon just doesn't compare to Slovenia. I've started my Bible course which is being held once a week over Zoom. It's been really interesting and helpful in the 3 sessions I've had but it's a long day on Zoom. 

Please keep praying for me as I still settle down into life and my new role here in the UK. Pray that I would be able to focus and study and rebuild relationships with people here. As the plan is for me to return to Slovenia next September, please also pray that I will be keeping up relationships with people there and the language I've learnt. Pray also that I would be able to raise the finances that I need but most of all that I would keep trusting God in all things!

Friday, 14 August 2020

Slowly Preparing to Leave...

Primož Trubar in Laško

It's been a few weeks since I last posted, I realise. After camp I needed a bit of time to recover and then last week I enjoyed a short holiday in a town not too far from Ljubljana called Celje. It's probably my favourite town in Slovenia and so it was great to be able to spend a few days there relaxing. I also took the train one day to a nearby smaller town and came across a statue of Primož Trubar, the Slovene reformer who wrote the first books in the Slovene language, To be honest it was the last place I was expecting to find a memorial to him...

The last few weeks have been a mixture of busyness and rest. It's all a bit strange really because everything is winding down. I feel like I should be working but actually most of my work has now finished. Next week I have my last language lesson, my last Bible study with one of the teenagers and last weekly meeting with a different girl. We then have our church weekend away and that will be the last big thing I am part of. This means that this Sunday will be my last time at church. Whilst I am very sad to be leaving, I'm trying to focus on all the good things that I will be going back to in the UK, not least being surrounded by people who speak English all the time!

I was talking with a friend today about I the practicalities and unknowns I face as I return. I have plans, contingency plans and contingency plans for the contingency plans! For those of you who don't know, my (second) flight back to the UK was cancelled and so I have now had to book a flight from Venice as there are no longer any direct flights from Ljubljana to London. This means that I have to fulfill the requirements to pass through Italy (which I only found out by chance yesterday!) as well as making sure I have the right forms for the UK. As it stands I will not have to quarantine when I enter the UK as both Italy and Slovenia are on the safe list but I can't take anything for granted. It seems that things change on a weekly basis and so I just need to prepare as best as I can and trust God that it will all go ok. As I was talking with my friend about this, I said well it's almost like moving to a new country where I don't speak the language and I'm not entirely sure what the plan is once I get there! At least with this cross cultural move I should be able to understand more of what's going on around me.

Even on a wet day Celje is still very pretty!
This will probably be my last post for a while as in two weeks time I will hopefully be sat in Marco Polo airport, Venice, as I wait for my flight. I probably won't post as often when I'm back in the UK but I will try and keep people updated. Please continue to pray for me as I leave and return to an uncertain situation, that I will keep trusting God for all things. Please also keep praying for Slovenia and for the church and work that is being done here. It is slow work but it is great to see how God has been working in the lives of the people I have met here over the past two years. It's been a great adventure but as I was reminded by my Bible study yesterday, the best is still yet to come. I may not know exactly what the next year in the UK holds for me and if and when I will be able to return to Slovenia but I know that God holds the future in his hands and He has promised a great hope and a future for those who trust in him!

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Youth Camp, Getting Wet and Selling My Bike...

The campsite forgot we were coming...
I'm a little bit late with my post this time, there have been cries of "Shame!" but I think I've had a valid excuse. Last week we had our youth camp and to be honest I'm only just feeling recovered now.

There had been concerns that we wouldn't be able to go ahead with our plans but thank God, all went well and we had another successful year. We were camping next to the River Kolpa on the border with Croatia with 17 young people and 5 adults. It didn't start out particularly well since the camp site had forgotten we were coming and the area we usually use was filled with boats, cars and a digger! Fortunately it was all moved quickly and we were able to set up as usual. 

This time we were studying the book of Colossians and looking at how we can be rooted in Christ, keep growing in him and then showing the fruits of our faith. In the evenings we had talks by Peter, our pastor and in the mornings the kids all went off for Bible studies. I had worked with two of the older teenagers to write the studies and they did such a great job of preparing and then leading their groups. It was great to see how God is working in them and in the lives of the other young people there. It was also encouraging because we had two teenage boys from another part of Slovenia who are not from church backgrounds. They had come to camp in the past because they were good friends with the Australian missionary family who left Slovenia last year. It was great to see these boys come back even though the Australian family wasn't here.

Altogether we had a really great time together, playing games, swimming in the river, singing and of
It got a little bit wet and muddy!
course learning more about God. That was, of course, until the last night/ morning. We knew that rain was forecast and so we prepared accordingly. I was sleeping in my hammock again but I had not been informed by my more experienced co-leader that I needed to attach rope to my hammock ropes so that the rain would drip off that to the ground. Instead, I woke up at about 6am with a soaked back! At least my tarp worked and so I wasn't wet from above as well! I had also had a moment of stupidity the night before and left my waterproof shoes on the floor next to my hammock. Because they are gore-tex, the rain didn't just soak them, it left pools of water in each shoe! Sufficed to say everyone was a little bit cold, wet and miserable that last morning. It did eventually stop raining but I think everyone was looking forward to clean, warm beds.

Despite the weather it was a great camp and I know that I'm really going to miss all of these people here. The time is ticking ever closer. I have just over a month left here in Slovenia, that is if my flight isn't cancelled! I'm having to start organising my things and preparing to leave. Yesterday I had a bit of a stressful morning when I discovered that my bike had a puncture and I still needed to get to my language lesson. I got there eventually but decided today that I didn't want to deal with the hassle of fixing my bike when I was planning to sell it so soon. Therefore, today, I wheeled it to a bike shop and sold it. Part of me is happy that it's one less thing to deal with but another part of me is sad because it's another step towards leaving the place that has become my home.
My co-leader woke up to a pool of water on her tarp!
I know that it is the right thing to do, and also I don't really have a lot of choice in the matter, but it's hard to say goodbye even if it is only (hopefully) temporary.

I will lift my eyes to the Lord and keep my eyes fixed on him. I will keep on trusting in him and I know that wherever he leads it is for my good!

Friday, 3 July 2020

Finishing the School Year (and a Mini Rant About the British Foreign Office)...

This last two weeks have really been ones of closure and goodbyes. I've already had to say goodbye to two American families from the church. One family has moved back to the US permanently whilst the other is just there over the summer but they will return to Slovenia after I've already (hopefully!) returned to the UK. Many weekly meetings have also finished for the summer. These included the weekly Bible study, my ministry training sessions and the youth group. For our last youth group of the school year we had a Masterchef competition. We split them into three groups, older girls, older boys and a younger group. Each group had to make chocolate mousse and then the hard task of judging them fell to the leaders. Surprisingly, and with no favouritism or biased voting, the younger group won. They had expected to be in last place so it was very gratifying to see the excitement on their faces when they realised that they had won! We had great fun together but it was a bit bittersweet for me as this was the last one I will attend and be a leader of.

That being said, I am in full planning mode for our youth camp which starts on 14th July and lasts until 17th (I will probably be late with my next blog post due to exhaustion!). We will be studying the book of Colossians and looking at how we stay rooted in Christ, grow and show fruit in our lives. I have been working with two of the teenagers who will be leading the groups to help them prepare and write studies on each section we will be studying. Please be praying for this time together, that we will have fun and safety on camp but mostly that each young person would learn more about God and grow in their relationship with him.

Here I need to put in a warning that I am about to have a mini rant against the British Foreign Office. I try very hard to keep my posts on social media politically neutral but since this decision affects me personally and makes very little sense I am sharing it so you can continue to pray for me and for the situation. As I'm sure you're all aware I am moving back to the UK at the end of August. This has meant that I've had to follow the news very carefully to work out my travel plans and what will be required of me. Last week I had to deal with the news that my flight on 26th August from Ljubljana had been cancelled. I've managed to book a new flight with a different airline on 28th August so I'm praying that this one doesn't get cancelled as well.

Today the government published the list of countries that are exempt from quarantine from 10th July. Slovenia is not on it! This is despite the fact that we have lower rates of infections than our neighbours and they are all on the exempt list. Serbia and Croatia are currently the countries from which we are getting most of our imported cases. Yesterday Slovenia added more restrictions to non Slovenes crossing the border from Croatia. Yet both countries are on the list. I just don't understand! I can understand the need to be in quarantine especially if I was coming from a country with a high rate, but I'm not. If anyone has any ideas then please send all answers on a postcard. I'm genuinely confused and obviously a little bit upset with the situation. Please be praying for this situation. I will quarantine, obviously, if it's required but I'm hoping that it will change before the end of August. If I need to quarantine, then this will also restrict my parents to the house as well. It just adds another level of difficulty to my move from Slovenia to St. Albans and then on to Swindon. I just need to keep reminding myself that God has it all in hand and he knows exactly what is the best thing for me. If this means quarantine, then into quarantine I will go...

Friday, 19 June 2020

Waiting for the Summer Weather...

A sunny day visit to Škofja Loka
I know that in the UK over the past couple of weeks you've had great weather and yet have all been stuck inside. Here it feels like we've had the opposite problem. We're allowed out and about and yet the weather is just not co-operating. Today we were supposed to have our last youth group of the year - an outside pool party with barbeque and a Masterchef competition. Instead we've had to postpone due to the stormy weather. One day will be nice and then the next it's tipping it down. I'm still longing for and looking forward to the long summer days that are due to be coming.

To me this seems like a snapshot of my life at the moment - in transition and waiting for things to come. My whole life feels very strange at the moment. I'm saying goodbye to people and usual activities, waiting for my move back to the UK, but I still have 2 months to go and I need to focus on things here. To be honest I'm not sure that I'll even feel 100% settled back in the UK. With plans to return to Slovenia in September 2021, I expect to feel in transition for the next year or so. My mum very helpfully pointed out that this is how we, as Christians, are supposed to feel in this world. This world is only transitory, fleeting and nothing compared to what is to come. Of course this doesn't mean that we don't interact with and live in the world but we are always to remember that this is not our true home, that there is something much, much better to come.

It's with these thoughts that I am facing the summer and the work I need to do. The next big thing to focus on is our youth camp which is due to happen in about a month. I'm really looking forward to it but am also aware of the work that needs to be done before then. After that we're due to have our church family camp. Unfortunately we will not be able to use the same venue that we normally do and we have not yet found a solution. It may be that the camp happens after I've left for the UK. I would be very sad if this were to happen but I know that all possibilities need to be looked into.

In the meantime I'm left staring out of the window trying to look for bits of blue sky...

Friday, 5 June 2020

Enjoying a Normal Week...

It seems a bit weird to admit, but I am so thankful for having my first "normal" week in a long time! Here in Slovenia we are definitely feeling like we're on the other side of the pandemic. Of course there are still certain measures in place but overall life feels almost back to where it was a few months ago. To be honest, I'm not sure what changes, if any, have been made to the society and culture here. Yes people still wear masks but it is no longer compulsory by law to wear them in public places (although places like buses and hairdressers etc still require you to wear them). I think the biggest change I have seen has been towards the attitude of using online video services. It is now more acceptable to meet up on Zoom or Skype (other services are available) if it is difficult to meet in person. For example, I had my first language lesson in person on Tuesday in the main park in Ljubljana, Tivoli. Today, however, the weather was not cooperative and so we just had the lesson on Skype again. I feel like it gives more flexibility to life.

From this week onwards all of the church meetings have been happening in person. This includes our first service together on Sunday. It has been great actually being able to meet people again and spend time with them without a screen! That being said, we are now approaching the end of the school year and so many meetings will stop for the summer break. This is starting to feel very strange for me! I only have 1 more ministry training session and 3 more youth groups. The time has gone by so quickly! I know that there will be many summer activities to prepare for but I'm having to start saying goodbye to meetings and programmes I have been involved with for the past two years! Moving back to the UK is feeling closer and a lot more real! (I know I'm using a lot of exclamation marks, forgive me, I'm a millennial and I need to express my feelings somehow!)

With the end of the school year comes the exam season for some of our teenagers. Please be praying for those who are facing this stressful time, especially those in the middle of their Matura exams (equivalent of A Levels) and those preparing to change schools next year.

If anyone doesn't yet know about my plans for when I return to the UK at the end of August (and wants to)/ would like to know how they can support me in prayer and/or financially please let me know by emailing me at s.re.deacon@gmail.com.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Starting to Get Back to Normal...

Summer is coming and life is slowly getting back to normal here in Slovenia. My Slovene teacher described it as: outside life goes on, inside things are still weird. Most things have started to reopen although most children won't be going back to school before the autumn. People are still quite cautious but with only 4 new cases in the last week, it definitely seems like the worst is past us now (unless of course there is the dreaded second wave!)

This has meant that I've finally been able to go out for coffee and ice cream and start meeting people in person. It was quite gratifying to find out that the waiters at my favourite coffee shop still recognised me and knew my order! It's amazing how great the little things are, sunshine, meeting people in person etc. I know many of you are still a long way away from this so I won't go on about it too much!

Of course there are still restrictions. Using the bus for the first time was an adventure. Half the seats have notices on them forbidding their use. All public places including the bus have hand sanitiser everywhere and we still have to wear our masks within indoor public places (unless it's a cafe or restaurant, it's not quite so easy to eat and drink with a mask on!)

In terms of church meetings, we are still online for most things. A lot of this is due to the fact we don't have our own building and so we have to wait until we're allowed back into our rented space. Tonight, though, we will have our first youth group together in an outside space. It will be really good to see them all again.

Just a note of encouragement to end this post. Within the last month a student from another part of Slovenia became a Christian and somehow found our church's details online. She has been joining our ladies group Bible study for the last couple of weeks. I didn't quite understand exactly how it all happened (it was all in Slovene), how she became a Christian and why she is meeting with us, but it is great to see that God is still working. Coronavirus has not and will not stop his work!

Settling Back in the UK...

It's hard to believe that it's been a month and a half since I last posted and nearly a month since I arrived back in the UK. Many o...