Last weekend was a blur, but in a good “We’re on trains and buses and have our hiking backpacks again!” sort of way. Due to a fortunate technicality of our residency status at the moment (we’re basically tourists), we must leave the Schengen Zone of the European Union every three months. The Schengen is all the countries with open borders, meaning no border controls or passport checks every time you go from, say, Germany to France or Switzerland.
This used to be a fairly simple procedure. When the Vienna team first came here five years ago, they only had to travel 45 minutes away to Slovakia, which was not part of the Schengen at the time. Now, with the expansion of the EU, this is harder, but makes for a more interesting and and exotic trip for us. The closest non-Schengen country: Croatia.
Croatia is part of both the Balkan peninsula and the former Yugoslavia. Its language is Slavic and its people are heavily Catholic (one of the main reasons for continued tension with its Eastern Orthodox neighbor Serbia and the Muslim Bosnia, as well as the 90’s war). The south part of the country is renowned for its coasts, islands and Mediterranean feel in its cities, food and people. Many Northern Europeans (Germans, Scandinavians, Austrians) travel to the Croatian coast for holidays. The north part of the country seems more Eastern European than Mediterranean, but still has a more relaxed vibe than, say, Hungary or Slovakia.
Our trip was fast and consisted of only a short visit to the capital Zagreb and a quick jaunt down to Plitvice Lakes National Park (a must-see). Zagreb is a bustling and trendy city, without any sign of being in a major war less than 20 years ago. We greatly enjoyed our time there, but I won’t go into much detail about the travel aspect of the country (I’ll cover that in my personal blog very soon). Since this is a mission blog, I want to talk about getting to visit the church in Zagreb on Sunday.
We met with missionaries Tom and Sandra Sibley early Sunday morning for breakfast and to learn a little about what they do. Tom has been instrumental in starting a Bible institute in Zagreb that has seen a lot of success the past 14 years.They currently have about 40 students from around the world. The Sibleys took us to church where we met the preacher Mladen Jovanovic and his wife Dragica as well as many other members of the church. They are numerous, joyful and full of energy. Holly and I got a kick singing familiar songs in the most exotic language we’ve ever tried singing songs in. After church we went to lunch with the Sibleys, Jovanovics and another young Croatian couple who works for the church. We explained what we do and hope to do in Vienna, they did the same about Zagreb and we all walked away feeling like friends (and more importantly, like brothers and sisters).
We are hoping to see most of them again at an all-Europe retreat in November. If not, we will definitely be back in Croatia at some point. It is a beautiful country and we only skimmed part of it. We have to go back in November for the same residency reason, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to visit the coast that time.