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 Ċ kofja 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!

Monday, 11 May 2020

The Lockdown Eases...

 My apologies to those of you in countries still with strict lockdown measures in place. Here in Slovenia we are, thankfully, finally starting to ease the lockdown. In the last week there has been at most 6 new cases in a day so we are definitely in a good place to start getting back to normal. This means that places such as cafes have started opening up again although only their outside portions. Public transport is now operational again although with very strict instructions listed at the bus stop (5 points** to whoever works out what the list in the picture means*. *No points if you already speak Slovene. **Points don't necessarily mean prizes). It's not surprising really but I liked the fact that they put up a dummy's guide to using the bus during this period! Schools will soon be opening up again but only for certain grades. We are also now allowed to travel around the country. I'm definitely looking forward to the opportunity to get out of Ljubljana!

My biggest fears lately have been how all this affects my return to the UK that is currently scheduled for the end of August. I have heard that Ljubljana airport is due to reopen next week which is great. I just have to wait and see if my flight will go ahead as scheduled. I'm praying that it will all go well. My parents had been due to come visit me at the beginning of June but this will obviously have to be postponed. I had hoped that they would be able to take a suitcase of stuff back with them but I guess this means that I will have to leave a few more things than I hoped here in Slovenia. The good news is that I'm definitely hoping to be back in Ljubljana by next September. Plans need to be confirmed and obviously I need to raise the finances to continue serving God in Slovenia (if you want to know how you can help in this way, please email me at s.re.deacon@gmail.com). Please be praying for me as I try to make plans for the future in this very uncertain time.

Although things are starting to open up, it's still not certain when my normal activities will resume and when we will be able to meet again as a church. Churches who own their own buildings are starting services again, although it looks like they will be socially distanced with little or no fellowship. My housemate who goes to the Pentecostal church described it as turn up, listen to the sermon, go home straight away! My church does not own its own building and so we are governed by the decisions of the organisation who own and run the building we use on a Sunday. We also rent space for our youth groups so again we have to wait and see what they say. This means that I'm going to be living online for at least the next couple of weeks. I am, as I'm sure many of you are, very grateful for the invention of the internet during this period. Although I can't meet with people face to face, I am still able to meet with them and I continue to be encouraged by the girls I meet with on a regular basis. I'm now just counting down the days until I can see people in real life again and have a proper coffee and ice cream with them!


Friday, 24 April 2020

Yep We're Still At Home...

Life moves very slowly when you're stuck inside doesn't it? To be honest, as I sit to write this post there's not much new to say. We're all doing our best to keep healthy and protect the most vulnerable people in society. Here in Slovenia it feels like we're almost coming to the end of the lockdown. More shops have started to open and many more restrictions will be lifted on 4th May.

Many of you will know that I was quite worried for Slovenia as a country at the beginning of the outbreak - we neighbour Italy and lots of people were travelling back and forth across the border. We can praise God that a big outbreak never materialised. The most new infections in one day was 70 which happened a few weeks ago. Since then the numbers have been kept very low. Of course there is always the worry that we'll get a second wave but I'm trusting God with whatever happens. 

I'm definitely grateful for the internet and the way that I'm still able to connect with people during this time. I've been keeping busy with preparing and leading studies each week with some of the teenagers in the church. I also made a video last week about my life in lockdown so email me at s.re.deacon@gmail.com if you would like the link for that.

I think what I've appreciated most about this time has been the ability to spend time with and getting to know my housemates better. We definitely all have our quirks but I have to say that I'm the only one in the flat who didn't want to be involved in making an advert for our mop... (Yep, there is a video out there about the joys of using our mop!) We've all had our ups and downs during this period but it's been great knowing that they understand and that we can support each other through the frustrations of this period.

I have to say I'm really looking forward to just being able to see a different part of the city! When this lockdown ends I'm planning on enjoying the country as much as I can before I leave for the UK at the end of August. Who knows what type of country I'll be returning to...

Friday, 10 April 2020

Reflections on Good Friday During a Pandemic...

We're all living in a strange time, a time that we could never have imagined even two months ago. When tragedy comes, and this is a tragedy, it is important to stop, think and reflect. This period has given some people more free time, more time to spend catching up with family and loved ones, time to do those little things they never were able to do before. For others, this time is frantic, scary and full of stress. For those of you who are key workers, I join with many others to say thank you for the hard work you are doing at this time.
Despite the busyness and stress many may be facing today, it is still important to stop and think, even if only for a moment, about what today means. Two thousand years ago a group of unremarkable people also had their world turned upside down. They were scared, devastated and just seen their whole world changed. They were so scared that they too locked themselves away to protect them from the the outside world. They had just seen their leader killed and they themselves feared facing death. It sounds very familiar doesn't it?

One can't help but notice that if the disciples had just listened a little bit harder to what Jesus had told them whilst he was still alive, they would have realised that this was not the end of the story and that God was working through the cross to defeat sin and death. If they'd listened to Jesus, they wouldn't have been so afraid of what was to come. I think the same is true for us today but with one major difference - Jesus has already defeated sin and death, we know the end of the story.

This pandemic is making many people think about their own mortality, think about what the world will be like when all is said and done. We can all see the problems in this world and whilst we are seeing a lot of good in people, we are also seeing the bad - the selfishness, the greed, the self interest and the lack of care for others. Good Friday reminds us that this is what Jesus came to deal with. He came to sort out a broken world and broken people.

Trusting God and asking for forgiveness is not a desperate act. It's not about being frightened into doing something no logical person would choose. It's about looking at the world around us, looking at ourselves and acknowledging that this is not right, we are not right and that only God can fix it all.

We may still be concerned about what the future brings and when we will be allowed our freedoms again but if we just stop, think and listen to what Jesus said then we can be reassured that God is still in control and if we trust in him, we have a certain hope and a future waiting for us.

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 chu...