Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Allen Belton Reports from Croatia

Dear Saints,

Thank you for praying for me and my time of ministry here in Eastern Europe.  I am ending a month long trip of traveling to Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria.

My Balkan journey began at the ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Gathering 2010 in the hills of Fuzine, Croatia. Two significant things about ROM this year were: 1. it was a smaller group of participants which allowed each person to go deeper in their relationships with one another and have more time to reflect on the powerful messages and information they received. The smaller number of participants allowed me to spend more one-on-one time with each of them which blessed me and I hope I was a blessing to them. 2. After ROM we had a very crucial meeting which was called a Summit.  This Summit lasted two days and it critically examined the past, present and future of ROM.  As the results of the work are summarized I will share more about the progression and development of ROM.

When ROM ended I was able to travel to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria. During that time I had the privilege to be a roommate with Brett McMichael.  Many of you have prayed for Brett as he battled through and had a successful kidney transplant.  He has been a real blessing for me because of his knowledge and experience as a missionary for 11 years in Croatia.  He is fluent in the language which has been a true blessing, as you know my struggles with foreign languages.  He has been a tremendous help with his caliber and competency in the language and culture.

Currently I am at a camp called Cinta on the Island of Ugljan off the coast of Croatia. The organizers of this camp are Momir Blazek from Croatia and Samuilo Petrovski from Serbia. Momir is the leader of STEP (Students Evangelical Movement) and Samuilo is the leader of EUS (Evangelical University Students). Both of them are quite active leaders in their respective countries. This camp is about the coming together of Serbians and Croatians. Due to the war here in this region in the early to mid 1990s there is a tremendous need for reconciliation and friendship building across ethnic and national divides. This camp allows reconciliation and friendship building to happen between college age students. There are also good representations from different Christian denominations. This allows those from different Christian backgrounds a chance to exchange ideas and see that we all believe in Christ, we just worship Him in different ways. This year's theme is "No Man is An Island" and the text that is in focus is about the Good Samaritan. I was privileged to be the opening speaker of the evening lectures. Each night we have different speakers.  One night the speaker was Miroslav Wolf, he is a well known theologian from Croatia and a professor at Yale University.

At this camp I have been speaking, leading workshops and conducting a gospel choir of 20 voices, which we called Voices of Praise.  Another workshop I had been asked to do was one about finding a good  life-mate. It was well attended by 16 men and 14 women. Another workshop was held by Vanja Miljevic on Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Literacy. She did a masterful job on unfolding the whole topic of emotional intelligence, feelings, communication and relations in this Eastern European culture and society.  Some of you may remember Vanja as a staff member for nine months at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle in the University Ministries ministry. We all have a great deal of respect and admiration for this leader.

Each day we wake up at 7:30am and have a staff meeting with prayer at 8:00am. Breakfast is at 8:30am followed by morning speakers and some free time until lunch which is at 1:00pm. We again have free time and meet once more from 5:00pm - 7:00pm for some workshops. Dinner is at 7:00pm and at 8:00pm there is time for worship followed by a lecture. The evening program usually ends at 9:30pm. The camp is the emergence of young leaders and among them is 21 year old Ela, who is pursuing a Master's Degree in Theology. I'm certain God is going to use her and that we are going to hear about her and other people like her.

I have also had an extremely heavy schedule both at ROM and Cinta with one-on-one sessions of coaching and mentoring leaders and participants. I am convinced that this is where God is leading me and giving me strength, wisdom and grace.

Thank you again for making this trip possible through your prayers and your support to be instrumental in the development and encouragement of leaders in this region of the world.

"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.  For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name."  Psalm 61:1-5 Christ is all.

From your partner in ministry, Grace and Peace!

Allen A. Belton
Senior Partner Reconciliation Ministries

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

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Meet the Speakers – Nate Ussery

Meet the Speakers - Nate Ussery from Tihomir Kukolja on Vimeo.

Nate Ussery has been involved with ROM since 1999, and his wife Ali were members of the team that developed the initiative. They lived in Fuzine and surrounding area for two and a half years before moving to the UK. Nate is originally from Los Angeles, California, USA. He, his wife Ali and their three children currently live in  North Wales, UK. Nate spends much of his time travelling and supporting young people and leaders in Europe, as well as being involved with local political leaders. Nate’s gifts lie in the areas of mentoring and encouraging individuals to explore faith and Biblical principles that can be used to positively influence relationships within families, communities and countries. 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Meet the Speakers – Leo van Doesburg

Meet the Speakers - Leo van Doesburg from Tihomir Kukolja on Vimeo.

Leo van Doesburg from the Netherlands, is the representative for East Europe for the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), which has as its main aim to promote the values of Jesus in all levels of Politics in Europe. He trains politicians from many countries in Eastern Europe and organizes conferences about protecting family values, religious freedom and multi party democracy. Leo travels extensively throughout East Europe and beyond, and currently lives in Timisoara, Romania. Leo spoke on the themes such as “Rebuilding the Walls” and “From Vision to Action”.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Meet the Speakers – Mihaela Kovacs

One of the ROM 2010 speakers was Mihaela Kovacs from Sighisoara, Romania. Mihaela graduated from the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work in 2006. She is the founder and Director of Fundatia Beraca Sighisoara, a non-profit organization against family violence and abuse.  She has worked in the field of social work since 1997, dedicating her time, skills and energy to serving  underprivileged families and those oppressed by discrimination due to their ethnic or minority status. Michaela has been actively involved in the leadership activities of ROM since 2006. She spoke this summer on the theme – Abusive Power of Discrimination. 

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Interview with Allen Belton

Novi list, a well known Croatian daily newspaper, published yesterday (Saturday 14th August 2010) a two page interview with Allen Belton, speaker and mentor at ROM Gathering 2010 (and all previous ROM Gatherings since 2001), under the title “Without Forgiveness There is No Future”. In the coming weeks we will try to provide an English translation of the interview.  Croatian text here....

Monday, 9 August 2010

ROM Gathering - Mission and Action

Mission and Action represent the closing stage of the ROM Gathering (Monday 2/8 – Wednesday 4/8/2010). Participants are encouraged to reflect on what they have gained in the previous two weeks. They are encouraged to look towards transforming their visions into action in their countries and communities. During the Mission and Vision stage workshops providing some useful tools play a very important role in encouraging ROM participants to serve their communities. Some of the workshops this summer were: Developing Healthy Interpersonal Relationships (Mihaela Kovacs); Stability with the Focus on Personal Finances (Zeljko Puja); How People Learn (Scott Boldt); Understanding Yourself and Your Neighbor (Martha S. Weiss); Let’s Talk about Forgiveness (Allen Belton); Dealing with Loss (Brett McMichael); Making Your Personal Plan (Leo van Doesburg); and Developing Mentoring and Internship Programs (Samuil Petrovski).

Meet the Speakers – Mihal Kreko

Mihal Kreko is presently working on developing a community center in Zagreb, Croatia, that envisions integrating a government for civic initiatives, local community needs and the mission of the association and the church that Mihal founded and leads. He is a pastor and publisher; last year for the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jean Calvin, he published in Croatian Calvin’s work “De Vita Hominis Christiani” (1550), the Life and of the Christian Man. He is the father of five children.

Meet the Speakers – Mihal Kreko from Tihomir Kukolja on Vimeo.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Meet the Speakers – Meic Pearse

Meet the Speakers – Meic Pearse from Tihomir Kukolja on Vimeo.

Meic Pearse is a Brit who currently lives in Croatia and the US, where he is Professor of History at Houghton College, New York. He did his M.Phil. and D.Phil. at the University of Oxford, UK. He is the author of seven books, most notably Why the Rest Hates the West. In Houghton he leads the “East Meets West” Honors Program, which introduces students to the study of three major world civilizations: the Catholic/Protestant West, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam. He has been also a lecturer of Church History at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia since 1995.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Brett Speaks at ROM Banquet 2010

Brett Speaks at ROM Banquet 2010 from Tihomir Kukolja on Vimeo.

Brett McMichael speaks encouraging words at the ROM Banquet 2010 about the friends he met at ROM Gathering 2010 in Fuzine, Croatia.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

ROM 2010: A Journey of Openness

By Randall Butler

As you read this, thirty-five courageous men and women are on a journey in Croatia.  Their physical location will not change (except for an occasional field trip to the coast) for they are not touring to see the ancient villages and beautiful islands of the Dalmatian Coast.  Theirs is a journey of transformation and discovery, which is why I call them courageous. 
They are purposely crossing boundaries that most of us are not brave enough to get near or even consider venturing across.  They are finding openings in the walls that separate enemies and walking through them not to attack each other but to build relationships.  Serbs, Bosnians, Kosovars, Albanians, Croats, Macedonians joined by some Northern Irish, Americans, Romanians and Dutch – they are challenging the mental models, the ethnic stereotypes and misunderstandings that would keep them divided.
Along the way they are also speaking the truth about the atrocities each side has committed against the other.  They speak the truth not in order to whip up their hatred of the other but to acknowledge the suffering of all and the need for a new collective future.  Together they are learning the power of forgiveness to remove the shackles of bitterness, spite, and hatred.... Randall Butler, The Institute for Sustainable Peace.... Read all HERE.

ROM 2010 - Inspiration from Romania

Inspiration from Romania from Tihomir Kukolja on Vimeo.

Adina Cristea, Romania, shares a story about amazing progress of Youth Bank in Romania, at the Evening of Inspiration moderated by Allen Belton, at ROM Gathering 2010 in Fuzine, Croatia (August 2010).

Monday, 2 August 2010

ROM 2010 in Progress - Challenge and Purpose

We have by now passed stage two and three on the journey called ROM Gathering 2010. Challenge (stage 2) has been always the most challenging stage of the ROM Gathering (Friday 23/7 – Wednesday 28/7). It is designed to lead participants to assess the painful realities of individual and societal hurts of the communities we are all coming from. The targeted issues are wars, ethnic and religious nationalism, racism, poverty, dysfunctional environments and personal hurts. The objective of this stage of ROM Gathering 2010 is to lead the participants to emotional and spiritual healing and restoration. As a part of the process participants are encouraged to share their own hurts, and to develop a attitude of empathy towards the hurts of others, especially those on the other side of ethnic, racial or religious divide. The tag lines for the Reconciliation and Healing stage are – conflict resolution, identity, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, peace and social justice.

PURPOSE is the name for the third stage of the ROM Gathering 2010 (Thursday 29/7 – Sunday 1/8), when ROM participants are encouraged to discover their purpose, calling and vision for service in their countries and communities. The emphasis is on leadership of integrity, sacrificial service and the features of leadership modeled by the example of Jesus of Nazareth. The tag lines for the New Paradigm for Leadership stage are – purpose, calling, vision, integrity and leadership of service.