Sunday, 29 August 2010

Brett McMichael's Update

We find the following report written by Brett McMichael, a member of the ROM Gathering 2010 Summer Team, very warm and informative. It is our pleasure to share it with you:

Dear Friends,

Since I last wrote to you at the conclusion of the children's cancer camp nearly two months ago, a lot has happened!  That is why I have not been in regular contact with you.  After the camp I was part of the leadership team for a gathering of young adults from all over the Balkan region called Renewing Our Minds, or ROM for short.  This gathering is designed with the purpose of building friendships across ethnic and religious divides.  These differences have for far too long been a source of mistrust, fear and even hatred.  This in turn has led to wars in this region.

This year's ROM gathering (the twelfth since 1999) was again successful at helping these young adults see beyond ethnic stereotypes and forge new, strong relationships built on trust and a common vision of wanting to make this region a better place for all.  ROM is based on the principles of love, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness as taught and demonstrated by Jesus.  In addition to receiving sound teaching based on the Bible, these young adults also heard from well known speakers from diverse fields of expertise including, psychology, political science, history, economics, etc.  Workshops were also offered to help develop practical skills in such areas as conflict resolution, project development, personal stewardship of finances, and understanding personality differences and how they affect choice of vocation and relationships.  I also taught a workshop on understanding and coping with loss, which is a huge factor influencing the psychological well being of the Balkan region.

Besides encouraging reconciliation ROM tries to instill in these young people the belief that they are significant, God cares about them and what happens to them.  At ROM we emphasize that each of their lives has a unique purpose and that purpose comes from God.  Thus it is important to carefully consider what it is God wants us to do with our lives since ultimately our lives our a gift from Him.

The young people who attend ROM have been identified by previous participants, mentors and other community leaders as having strong leadership potential.  Therefore we also try to teach both principles and practices of successful leaders.  Leadership with integrity and leaders who serve are the two main themes that are emphasized.  While we look at such inspiring leaders as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr,  Jesus serves as our chief role model.  Thus we remind the participants that if they want to be great they should think about ways they can empower others who are oppressed rather than exalting themselves.

It is evidence that people who attend ROM take this advice to heart since many former participants have gone on to establish projects which bring about reconciliation in their communities, serve the poor, work with orphans, teach the disabled and provide encouragement to those suffering from illness.

After ROM I traveled with a small group friends (Samuil Petrovski, Allen Belton, Martha S. Weiss, Bojan Ruvarac, Aleks and Jessica Jarcev...) around the Balkan region to visit and encourage former ROM participants.  From the northwest of Croatia I traveled east to Belgrade, Serbia, which is the capital city.  We spent a few days meeting with young adults, carefully listening to them and their concerns, then sharing scripture and praying with them.  Common prayer needs were for help with staying focused on their university studies (if they were still students) while those out of school needed lots of prayer for help finding work.  The economy is not too strong here so unemployment is high, but it is especially high for young adults.

From Belgrade we traveled south stopping for a brief visit to Leskovac, a small city in southern Serbia.  The phrase, Sto juznije, sto tuznije, or in other words, the farther south you go the sadder things get, became much too apparent as we entered that place.  Here poverty was even more pronounced.  But even amidst economic difficulty we found joy, the joy that comes from knowing Christ in a real way.  We were blessed by the hospitality of a local pastor and his family.  We sang and prayed together, encouraging them in their ministry.

From Leskovac we traveled farther south to Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia.  Again we met with former ROM participants and caught up on their lives - marriages, births, deaths, new jobs, new apartments, etc.  We heard about their struggles as well as their triumphs.  Reading God's Holy Word and lifting up all their concerns in prayer we all felt God's presence among us. One day we took a brief side trip to Thessaloniki, Greece to see some of the sights.  We saw an old Turkish fortress, a huge Orthodox Church and the old market.  It was a very interesting and pretty city but I must admit it was hard to enjoy it fully since it was so very hot (upper 90s).

Our last stop on our Tour of Encouragement was Sofia, Bulgaria, which is also a capital city.  Sofia had some scenic parks and beautiful churches, but our main reason to visit there was to spend time with more young adults.  Similar stories we heard before we told, difficulty finding jobs and affording apartments, challenges to keeping the faith when surrounded by materialism, promiscuity, cynicism, and misuse of religion for personal gain or political manipulation.  Through our fellowship together though the Holy Spirit moved among us and brought not only words of hope to our lips but a real sense of confidence that God is indeed working even in such seemingly desperate situations as these.  Again we were blessed by the hospitality of the family with whom we stayed.  Though they were of very modest means, this family feed us such wonderful food.  The mother had suffered a stroke and lost the use of one of her hands yet still insisted on getting up and making us all crepe style pancakes for breakfast!

Returning to Belgrade we all rested for a couple of days.  We were all exhausted!  I must admit I began feeling like the apostle Paul a bit, but I had much nicer transport and accommodations!  I had a cold since the end of ROM, but didn't treat it since I thought it was a virus and just hoped it would go away on its own.  Finally in Belgrade I went to a doctor and got a throat culture done to determine if I had a bacterial infection.  I indeed did, so she started me on some antibiotics.  Within a couple of days I was already feeling much better.

On August 17th we left Belgrade, Serbia on a 12 hour, overnight, bus ride to the Island of Ugljan, which is off of the coast of Croatia.  Here we had a Christian camp for around 70 university students from Croatia and Serbia.  This camp was organized by two student evangelical organizations, STEP from Croatia and EUS from Serbia.  They are affiliated with IFES (International Federation of Evangelical Students).  In the USA, Intervarsity would be the equivalent organization.

Each morning we had a speaker who presented the topic of emotional intelligence as it relates to understanding ourselves and getting along with those around us at work, church, school, and in society in general.  It was very well prepared and had lots of practical applications.  In the afternoons there were plenty of interesting optional workshops including such activities as gospel singing, art, salsa dancing, and the game Go.  I enjoyed learning to play Go, which is a Chinese stragy game.  It's easy to start playing, but it takes a long time to master advanced strategy.

In the evenings we had absolutely wonderful worship provided by the students and staff.  There were so many talented musicians - everything from blues guitar playing to classical harp!  The singing was fantastic too!  The theme of the camp was, No Man is an Island.  The main Biblical text was the story of the Good Samaritan.  Students were confronted daily with the questions, Who is my neighbor?  And, To whom will I be a neighbor?  Great preaching was heard each night from various pastors as well as a couple of students studying theology.

In between speakers, workshops and worship there was plenty of free time for swimming in the beautiful, crystal clear Adriatic sea.  The water was perfect, cool and refreshing!  The beaches there are quite rocky, but this doesn't bother me nor most of the people who attended.  The sea is quite healthy as we could see a lot of marine life including schools of fish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins and many types of sea plant life.

The students truly enjoyed themselves and were deeply inspired by the messages preached each evening.  A few non-believers decided to accept Christ as their savior at the camp.  As is typical with any student camp there were many late nights and long conversations.  This presented me with great opportunities to disciple believers and witness to non-believers.  My ministry over the years has been with children and teens and I love it, but I must say I found working with these students very enjoyable and rewarding too.

The camp ended on the 25th and I left the students and staff to travel onto Osijek, Croatia, where I am currently writing this letter.  I used to live here from 1996 to 2004 so I have quite a few friends to visit.  I will see the Evangelical Theological Seminary where I used to teach and the hospital where I started the psychosocial support program.  On Thursday the 2nd of September I will return to Zagreb for nearly a week where I will spend some time with friends and visit former projects before coming home to the US on the 8th.

I look forward to hearing from each of you and hopefully over the course of these coming months seeing many of you in person!  You are all in my prayers. May the Lord grant you blessings of health and happy times with family and friends.

Your friend and brother in Jesus Christ,

Brett McMichael

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