Friday, 14 January 2022

Christmas, New Year and Return to Slovenia...

 

Lights in Ljubljana
It's been a few weeks since I last wrote and a few things have happened since then. I've had many adventures with Covid tests and getting all my paperwork together so that I could fly back to the UK for Christmas. I also had made the decision to fly via Venice directly to Bristol but this meant that I also had to contend with Italian rules which kept changing. Thankfully I made it back safely but then had to wait for the results of my PCR test. They arrived at 7.15pm on Christmas Eve! Contingency plans were well underway at this point but I am very grateful that I was able to have a normal(ish) Christmas with my family. Unfortunately at some point that weekend I caught norovirus. This led to a quick trip to A&E as I was so dehydrated. In the end I was fine, it just took a few days to recover and wasn't really the Christmas I had envisioned! Despite it all, I was really blessed by my time with my family and friends. I especially enjoyed being able to go to Swindon and go to my sending church. It really was an encouragement to be able to share what I have been doing and to hear preaching on the church's text for the year - 1 Corinthians 15:57. It was good to be reminded that it is in Christ we have the victory.

Sharing with my church in Swindon
I have now been back in Slovenia for a week and a half and it was back to reality with a bump. Despite not getting home until 11.30pm, I was back at language school bright and early the next morning. My language classes have now finished for this semester and so I have a break from them for 6 weeks. I really feel like I have learnt a lot in this time and that I have grown in confidence. My teachers have been very encouraging about my progress and it helped that I got 85% on my end of semester test (although of course I felt that I should have done better!) In the meantime Cornhill starts again next week and so I will be kept busy preparing my next talk. Please pray for me as I have to give a talk on a passage from Exodus 22 which is quite daunting. I have also arranged to have language lessons once a week with my old teacher. It will be good to spend time with her and hopefully I won't lose any momentum with my language.

The Covid situation here seems to get worse daily. Many people in my church have been affected by it, either by illness or by quarantine. This means that youth group has been cancelled tonight and church on Sunday will be online once more. Please pray for my church at this time, that we would still be able to encourage one another and that we would keep trusting in God alone for our help and strength. In conclusion, I have been reading the book of Daniel recently and something in the Bible notes struck me. Daniel and his friends, living in exile faced so many trials and challenges that could have led to their deaths yet they kept trusting and obeying God. God in his mercy chose to save them in extraordinary ways, not because they deserved it or to show that he will always save his people from danger, but to show that he can, that he is in control of all things. I may not know why God doesn't save us from this pandemic but that doesn't mean he is unable to. He is still in control, he has given us the victory through Jesus Christ his son!

Friday, 10 December 2021

I've finally gained residency...

Snow in Kamnik where
I collected my residency card
Today has been a momentous day for me. I officially picked up my residency card and so completed the process for this year. Yes I will have to redo the arduous task again next year but it should not be as complicated as this time. The results of this are that firstly I'm legally allowed to live and work in Slovenia until November next year so this is a massive answer to prayer. It also means that I'm legally allowed to leave the country which I hadn't been able to do for the last 2 months. This is important because obviously I'd like to get back to the UK for Christmas. Despite the raft of new restrictions the UK has brought in, everything is booked and planned. I'm praying that I will get the results of my Day 2 PCR test before Christmas Day. For those of you in Swindon, I'm planning to be at church in both the morning and the evening on 2nd January before I fly back to Slovenia on 3rd.

Apart from today's excitement, the last 3 weeks have been quite interesting. I was due to write last week but put it off because I was waiting for some news. 2 weeks ago I fell off my bike during very wet weather and badly bruised my leg. It was so bad that on Tuesday I had to go for an X-Ray just to double check that I hadn't broken it. Technically I haven't had the results but having seen the pictures myself and after asking the technician what he thought, I'm pretty sure it's not broken. I was starting to get visions of a cast and travelling through an airport in a wheelchair but although it's still painful, it is a lot better than it was even 2 days ago.

Language school has still been going well but the subjects and demands are getting harder. Yesterday I had to write a blog post about the importance of bees and what we should do to protect them. Today I had to write a 5 minute talk about Emmeline Pankhurst. Both these subjects took a lot of thought and effort but I think it's good that I'm being stretched in this way.

Cornhill is also going well. Last week I gave my second talk of the year. I also found this a demanding talk to write as it was on a passage about divorce. This is obviously a difficult topic and I wanted to make sure that I spoke about the passage faithfully but also to deal with it sensitively.

Christmas decorations in my flat - I think I need some more!
So here I am sat in my Christmas decorated flat, listening to Christmas music, looking at the mounds of snow outside and planning my Christmas holidays, thankful to God that I have survived this first term back in Slovenia.

This will be my last post before Christmas and the New Year so I wish you all joy and blessing as we remember our Saviour who came into this world for our sake!

I will be writing my 2 monthly prayer letter next week. If there is anyone who doesn't receive it but who would like to, please email me at s.re.deacon@gmail.com

Friday, 19 November 2021

Dramatic Happenings...

Almost as soon as I published my post 2 weeks ago, the government introduced slightly stricter measures here in Slovenia. For me it's only had a small impact, the biggest of which is that we're no longer supposed to have private gatherings. This has meant that my choir has been cancelled for the time being and the Ladies' Bible Study that had been happening in my flat has gone back to zoom. There are several other new rules but nothing too drastic unlike our neighbours to the north (Austria). Despite this I think it may just be a matter of time until some sort of lockdown is introduced if cases continue to rise in the same way.

The other dramatic event also happened almost 2 weeks ago now. My neighbour's house caught fire! No one was hurt and I understand the building is still habitable as most of the fire was in the attics. I live down quite a small road and I have often looked at this house from my window (it's almost directly opposite but just slightly down another street) and admired it. It was quite a surprise therefore to hear lots of sirens and to see the street filled with fire engines. I think I counted about 7 of them! I am very thankful that no one was hurt, it definitely could have been a lot worse. It was difficult though to watch it all unfold (I had little choice since it was right outside my window and the noise was really loud) and to know there was nothing I could do to help. It's good in these times to know that there is One who can help and can comfort those strangers in a way that we can't.

Other than these things, life has gone on pretty much as normal for me. Today I went with my language school to visit a cave in Slovenia. Slovenia has many caves, about 14,000, and lots of them are open to tourists. It always amazes me that God chose to even make difficult places, underground places, beautiful. This cave, Županova jama (The Mayor's Cave), was discovered in the 1920s and has 6 large chambers open to the public. It was good exercise, my friend described it as her leg day, but it was also beautiful to see God's creation 35m below the surface.

There's a concept I learnt about at university called Uniformitarianism. It's the theory that the earth and its geology was formed by long, slow processes and that what has happened in the past will continue to happen in the future. When I looked at these caves today I was reminded that despite everything that's going on around us, God continues the same. God is the ultimate example of uniformitarianism. He was good in the past, he is good in the present, and he will continue to be good in the future. The world may be chaotic and dramatic around me but I have hope because I know that God will continue to be in control of all things. His creation shows us that!

Friday, 5 November 2021

Exploring Slovenia...

View near Lake Bled
I realise that I didn't put up a blog post last week when I was due to so sorry about that. Firstly I just plain forgot that I was supposed to be writing last week, and secondly, last week my parents were here visiting which meant that I took a bit of a break from my work.

It was half term here in Slovenia last week as well as in England which worked out very well for me. It meant that I got a break from both language school and Cornhill, my Bible handling course. (It also happened to be my birthday but that's just an aside!) These first few weeks have felt hectic at times trying to get everything done so it was good to be able to spend time with my parents and to show them parts of Slovenia they had never been to before. One of the highlights for me was visiting the arboretum. It was just amazing in the autumn colours and really made me grateful for God's wonderful creation. We also took the opportunity to go visit Lake Bled and the nearby gorge. Again, the weather was amazing and we had great views across the whole landscape.

Autumn in the Arboretum

Before my break two big things happened. Firstly, my language teacher had to withdraw from teaching the course because she needs back surgery. We now have two teachers on alternate days of the week. Whilst my new teachers are great, I do feel that we had all built a good rapport with the first one. It takes time to build that with new teachers especially when we only see them half the time each. At first I was a bit worried that it was going to be quite disjointed but having had them for 2 weeks now (1 each side of half term) I feel that we are starting to get into a good rhythm.

The other big thing for me was that I had to give my first talk of the year for Cornhill. For those of you who don't know, I have to prepare and give 6 talks this year, each on a different passage. Last year we stayed in the book of Colossians and worked on maybe 1 or 2 verses for each talk. By the end our talks had to last 10 minutes. This year we are working with larger passages and each talk is from a different genre of literature in the Bible. My first talk was from 1 Peter whilst my next one will be from the Gospel of Mark. Our talks also now have to last 12-15 minutes. It really does feel like a step up but I guess that's the point. I'm very grateful that I got positive feedback on my talk but I get the impression that my next passage will be a bit harder to work on. Please be praying for me in all these studies.

Finally, some of you may be wondering about the situation here in Ljubljana. The last two weeks have definitely felt a lot calmer than previous weeks. I'm sure there are still people protesting but it's nothing like it was the last time I wrote. That being said, cases are still rising here and numbers of vaccinated people is not increasing at any great rate. Praise God that the situation is calmer but please continue to pray for the Covid situation here as well as across the world!

Friday, 15 October 2021

Hitting the ground running...

Police and tear gas in the centre of Ljubljana
So much has happened in the last two weeks that it's hard to know where to start. As I wrote last time there have been protests in Ljubljana every week for the past month. On Tuesday last week different EU leaders arrived in Slovenia for a summit to discuss the entry of Balkan countries into the EU. The protestors decided to take advantage of the media spotlight on Slovenia. I won't go into the details but sufficed to say the police used tear gas and water cannons again. Unfortunately for me, I happened to be in the centre of Ljubljana that night for a choir practice. As we cycled together to practice, my friend said to me "are your eyes stinging?" The tear gas the police were using spread throughout the entire centre and permeated the building we were in. It was an interesting rehearsal with the sound of the police helicopter reverberating around and our throats and eyes being affected by the gas. None of us knew exactly what situation we would be going out into when we left. Fortunately the streets had quietened down at that point and although there were lots of police officers around I got home easily. There was another protest this week on Wednesday but it was quieter and much more contained than the previous couple. I expect these protests to continue so please keep praying for the country and the political situation here. 

As for me the last two weeks have been non-stop. I started my language course and I'm really enjoying it. I'm in the top group and there are only 4 of us in the class in total. It's hard work but I feel like much of what I had learnt previously is coming back to me. With my language classes, homework and Cornhill work I certainly have enough to keep me busy but I'm enjoying everything I'm doing and I feel like I'm learning lots. This next Wednesday I need to give my first talk for Cornhill this year. It's on 1 Peter 4: 1-11 if you're interested. Please be praying for my preparation and that I would be learning from the feedback I receive. 

On top of all this I'm still dealing with all the practical issues of moving to a new country. I've had fun organising the shipping of boxes and they've mostly arrived in one piece! Last Friday I attended an interview at the town hall to file my application for residency. It was a bit more complicated and stressful than I was expecting but the application is now in and so I just have to trust God and the process. I have a very official letter that says I'm not allowed to leave the country until I get an answer as to whether my application has been accepted or not. This shouldn't be a problem although I am praying that it will be organised sooner rather than later as I would like to be able to go to the UK for Christmas. I have been told that it will take at least a month but I'm hoping it won't be much more than that. 

It's hard to believe that I've been back in Slovenia for a month now. The time has gone so quickly and yet God has blessed me so much through his provision of accommodation and friendship and fellowship at church. Last night I hosted the Ladies' Bible Study (and will continue to host every other week). It was so nice to be able to meet in person and to be able to share what God has given me. Please continue to pray for me. Give thanks for all that God has given me but please be praying for me as I continue to settle in and deal with all my new responsibilities and workload.

Friday, 1 October 2021

Living in the New Normal...

Sunset from my balcony
Since I last wrote 2 weeks ago, things have gone a bit crazy here in Slovenia. I'm not going to try and give an opinion on anything that's happening only try and explain as best as I understand recent events. Slovenia currently has one of the highest Covid rates in Europe and as such has been put on Europe's dark red list (this is a different list to the UK one). As a result of high rates of cases and low take up of the vaccine, the government introduced new measures 2 weeks ago. Here it's called PCT (preboleli, cepljeni, testirani) and it essentially means that to use most services one has to prove that they have been vaccinated, have tested negative in the past 48 hours or have recently recovered from Covid. This affects everything from sitting inside in restaurants, to going to most shops to even meeting together as a church. As you can imagine there are a lot of people who are not happy with these new measures. Every Wednesday since they were introduced there have been protests and demonstrations in the centre of Ljubljana. The first one descended into a mini riot with police using water cannons and tear gas. The protest this week seemed to be even worse and lasted around 7 hours. They marched to different parts of the city but eventually they moved back to the centre. Some journalists were attacked and again police used water cannons and tear gas. I'm not sure how long it would have continued if that evening Ljubljana hadn't experienced one of the biggest storms for many years. According to Slovene news, more rain fell in a short period of time than had fallen in the previous 2 months combined. It was pretty impressive to watch! Anyway, this seemed to discourage the protestors and they eventually dispersed. I'm close enough to the centre that I heard some sirens and the helicopter flying around but it didn't affect me otherwise.

For me, the PCT conditions are more of an annoyance than anything. My NHS pass is valid here and most places just glance at it and it's all ok. However I'm never quite sure how the different security guards will react to it, especially if they try and scan the QR code, which won't work because it's not an EU pass. This led to me having an argument with one security guard. Eventually he let me in, mainly because he couldn't speak English, my Slovene was bad and I think he got bored!

Coffee on the hob
Apart from getting used to these conditions, I am feeling very at home back here in Ljubljana. I have been welcomed back by the church with open arms and it's been great getting to spend time with friends here again. I'm also getting to know new people and I have joined a choir. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to do something musical outside church and to get to spend time with non Christians. I continue to feel blessed by the flat I've been given and have been working to make it feel like home. I even bought a Slovene coffee pot so I can make it on the hob.

This week I started Cornhill online. It felt a little bit strange just watching videos and not interacting with people but I'm looking forward to getting stuck in. I also had a placement test for my language course which starts next week. I found out today that I've been placed in the upper intermediate class which I think is a fair reflection of my abilities. Please be praying for me as I start these courses, that I will be learning what God wants to teach me and that I would be a blessing to the people around me.

Overall, please be praying for the country of Slovenia. It's feeling very disunited and there are obviously strong feelings on all sides of the debate. No solution will ever please everyone but I really pray that God would be working in the hearts of people and that they would be able to come together peacefully to discuss the issues.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Arriving Back...

My new home
 I do realise that it's been about a year since I last wrote here on my blog and what a year it's been for all of us. I've spent the last year studying online in Swindon and working part time for my church there. It's been a good year in many ways despite all the restrictions. I really appreciated the opportunity to get to know new people in the church and to rebuild relationships with friends. Most of all I enjoyed spending what time I could with my family. It was a year of change for many of them as well. My parents moved out of the home I grew up in and bought a new house on the other side of the country to be nearer my sister. We also all welcomed a new baby (my nephew) to the family. This has really been a year of growth, learning and rebuilding relationships. Of course most things were affected by the Covid situation and it wasn't always easy but it's been great to see how God works even through the tough times.

As you probably already know, I have now moved back to Slovenia permanently. I arrived on Friday evening and some lovely friends collected me from the airport and took me to my new flat. I have really been blessed by this flat and I can definitely see God's hand at work in the process. I had been searching the internet every day since July to see what was available and what would be suitable. In my mind I didn't think I was asking for a lot. I wanted somewhere that wasn't too far out of the centre of Ljubljana, near good transport links, that had a separate bedroom, a place to work and an oven (amazingly many places I saw only had a hot plate). It would have been nice to have a balcony, air conditioning and a dish washer but none of those were essential. Most importantly it needed to be affordable. A friend of mine looked at a few flats but for various reasons none worked out.

I even get a balcony!

In the second week of August I still hadn't found anything and I went on beach mission so I was a bit distracted from my search. That week I got an email from a different friend who had heard that I was looking for somewhere. His former landlord had a flat just come available in the building he used to live in with his family. In fact another family from church still live in the building. Through this God answered all my prayers. That flat is now mine (if anyone wants the address then please message me) and it is better than I expected. It has everything on my essential and desirable list and it is exactly in the location I'd hoped to live.

My first few days back in Slovenia have been going well and it almost feels like I never left. I have started all the official procedures I need to do so please be praying for me as I try to navigate the system. It was lovely to go to church on Sunday and see everyone again. I truly felt very welcome and I look forward to settling down properly here. Now I just need to do something about this language learning...

Christmas, New Year and Return to Slovenia...

  Lights in Ljubljana It's been a few weeks since I last wrote and a few things have happened since then. I've had many adventures w...