Roma Travel Journal - Day 14
VIM teams can be a perfect mix of gifts. The challenge is to listen enough and get to know each other so those gifts bubble up and can be offered at the appropriate time. The team member I introduce today is Kathy – who knows computer technology. It’s easy to miss what Kathy might offer because she’s quiet and unassuming. She’s one of the two Mission Ambassadors for WPA, and will co-lead a class at WPA Mission u. Kathy has mentored me in setting up a spreadsheet to track our expenses.
Logistically, each country has provided different lessons. The credit card has been the way to go on this journey. On some trips to developing nations in Africa and Latin America, I’ve carried thousands of dollars in clean bills to pay our debts along the way. In some of those countries, US dollars did not need to be changed into the country currency; they had become the country currency.
Maybe because of the influence and assistance of the European Union, what I experienced in this part of the world years ago (no credit cards, no checks, no loans from banks) has now moved to ATM machines in all towns – wherever there is a bank, and many stores and gas stations with credit card terminals. Each country sets a limit on how much cash can be withdrawn from a machine each day, so that has required a little advance planning and withdrawal. We’ve moved from Euros (1 Euro = $1.32 US$) in Austria and Slovakia (both in the European Union) to leva (1 leva = .67 US$) in Bulgaria (in the European Union), and to dinar (1 Serbian dinar = .0119 US$, just a little over a cent) in Serbia (not in the EU).
It will be interesting to see my credit card statement when we return home – to finish out the spreadsheet of expenses.
Our distribution list for those receiving these emails has continued to expand. Bless my husband’s heart – when I ask him to add someone else, he takes the trouble to send all the emails to the new person. Latest addition is Dick Arnold, Consultant, Eastern Europe and Balkans for GBGM. Without the contacts Dick provided, this trip would not have happened. He provided the name of an “In Mission Together” IMT Coordinator for each country, and those folks set things up for us. Lenka, in Slovakia, is a full time English teacher in University. When she had arranged calendar and places, she passed us off to Svetlana who finished details and hosted us. Daniel Topalski is actually the District Superintendent in Bulgaria (and pastor of a church. He set up details and put us in the care of Tsetso, a 29-year-old seminary student who interpreted drove us everywhere, and very ably answered our questions. Finally, Liljana is the IMT Coordinator for Serbia. She has set up our schedule, hosted us in the church apartment, cooked our meals, and interpreted for us. She and her husband, Janko have driven us around in two church cars.
We are amazingly connected in the United Methodist Church. The first attached picture is of Johanna, the young pastor’s wife who tried to help me with bus and train information as I was planning this trip. She didn’t know me; I didn’t know her; Rev Laura Trent in Tennessee was connecting us as she also tried to help me plan a trip to countries I had never visited. The meeting today was rather accidental as Liljana took us to meet Vladimir, the pastor of an old German UMC in Vrbas. Vladimir’s wife, Johanna mentioned she had tried to help an American with information on train schedules last month, I realized this was the young friend of Laura, and I was the American. We never would have discovered this without a conversation around a kitchen table. We’ve had many conversations in the last three weeks – building relationships happen that way.
Our last visit with a Roma congregation today brought more conversation. Katarina, the Roma pastor had lost her mother a few months ago and was still wearing black. She continued the stories of poverty and racism. It’s overwhelming – especially when I wonder what response will come when we return home to share our experience with American United Methodists. We’ve occasionally been asked by people here why we would study the Roma when we don’t have very many gypsies in the US. I can imagine we’ll be asked the same question by United Methodists in the US. I appreciate John Wesley’s statement that the world was his parish – not just England, or Africa, or South America or North America, but the world. The Roma children will be hard to forget.
We are wrapping things up here and have given away all the materiel we brought for crafts and gifts. We have very little to take home in the way of souvenirs. Our hosts kept us quite busy visiting people, projects and congregations. It seems like we’ve been gone for months – immersing ourselves in the Roma of Europe. Time to come home…