Twenty-one year old Amy* from Georgia, USA, is a senior student of public health, who wants to make her college holidays ‘count’ for God’s kingdom. After an unforgettable two months spent in Africa last year doing medical missions, Amy’s heart was to spend summer 2018 in a similar way. But when those plans didn’t work out, her father made a suggestion: why not visit old family friends Robbie* and Angela* who serve with OM in Montenegro, and with whom Amy’s father had himself volunteered years back?
Robbie and Angela were thrilled to receive an email from Amy, whom they’d known from childhood, and soon the plans for a six week internship in south-east Europe were falling into place. Although Angela and Robbie are based in Bar on Montenegro’s southern coast, the schedule they planned for themselves and Amy would give her a taste of OM activities not only in Montenegro, but Serbia too.
One part of Bar which tourists rarely see is the Old Town; historically an area of poverty and deprivation. Most residents have a Muslim heritage, and Robbie and Angela’s ministry base “The Lighthouse” is right in the heart of town. It is very popular for local kids and youth, as a place to hang out and for the activities staged there. Art and crafts are great favourites for both girls and boys, as they get little other opportunity or encouragement to be creative, and craft supplies can be hard to obtain locally. Angela leads the craft activities and was planning a special week-long Art Camp, so Amy’s help was most valuable. Angela’s original idea was that everyone would make a different craft each day, then display everything on the final evening, as an exhibition for the parents to attend.
But on the first morning, Angela soon realised that the kids who were coming either didn’t live with their parents, or their home situations were really difficult, meaning that family members might not turn up for an exhibition. “So our plans changed as we realised that God had brought the perfect group of kids that we could give a little extra love and attention to, that they don’t get at home.” It was a great benefit to Angela to have Amy share in the Art Camp with her, because as Angela puts it, “she did such a great job of showing the love of Jesus ” to the kids. Amy especially valued opportunities such as the time she spent with 14 year old Nejla* “just talking, and encouraging her, amid the chaos at art camp”, as Amy describes it. Nejla loved sharing about her family, her birthplace in Bosnia, school and her dreams for the future. Another teenager Amna* was keen to practise her English with Amy, trying to express her passion for learning and for life.
That wasn’t the end of handicrafts for Amy. Robbie had a great idea–which Angela comments usually means lots of work for her will be involved–but this was such a good idea that Angela decided it would be worth the time. Robbie’s idea was to make gift bags for the 115 workers at the old people’s home where the couple regularly visit their special friend Duska, one of the 300 residents. For a full week Amy and Angela cut and sewed attractive little bags, then shopped through town for enough lotions, coffee and sweets to fill them. Then followed the two hour journey north along the coast to one of Montenegro’s two state-run care homes for the elderly. Robbie and Angela want to invest in the lives not only of the residents, but also the staff. When the care staff were presented with the gift bags, they were so surprised and thankful. One of Angela’s favourite quotes is from Mother Teresa...’Do small things with great love’, and she feels that these simple gifts did show God’s love to the workers, and will continue to grow and deepen their relationships with everyone at the home. Amy recalls feeling a little nervous when first entering the care home, not knowing what to expect, but soon felt at ease because the staff and residents were all so friendly. “I did have quite a few residents talk to me, but not knowing Serbian kept me from understanding them,“ says Amy. “I wish I could have spoken to them and heard their stories! And I especially loved seeing their faces light up when we played music for them.”
Another car journey Amy took with Robbie and Angela took even longer – 11 hours of mountains, road tunnels, hairpin bends and finally the border crossing into Serbia. Here at a refugee camp, OM provides a huge tent to be a community space for the camp’s 350 occupants, and also runs the laundry service. Amy and Angela got busy in the laundry room, where on just one day they processed 67 loads of washing. “Oh my!” laughs Amy. "I've never seen so much laundry at one time! It was a lot to take in at first, but once I got into the rhythm of it, it was actually kind of fun, like trying to explain the process to the refugees who didn't understand English. I really enjoyed being able to help in a very tangible way at the camp.”
Robbie meanwhile was based in the OM tent itself, which was a rich experience involving serving tea, playing table tennis and board games with the men and boys hanging out there, who come from lands like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Tunisia and Pakistan. One cultural highlight for Robbie was dancing with some Kurdish men to their local music. Spiritual highlights included studying the Bible with a Syrian guy and with some Iraqis. Robbie comments that is was “such an honour to be sharing and showing God’s love to these people at a time when they are ‘lost’ in every way."
Reflecting on Amy’s loving and servant-hearted input to all the different activities this summer, Angela comments that with young people like her around, the future is looking good for other people getting to know Christ. Amy herself reflects that amidst the whirl of activity in Montenegro, there were also precious quieter times of fellowship (sometimes despite not even a word being spoken because of language barriers) or being lost for words at the wonder of creation by the Adriatic sea. But whether in those quieter times, or in full-on activity, it was a privilege to share in God’s loving purposes for unreached people of all ages and backgrounds. Please pray for Amy as she concludes her health studies and seeks God’s place for her in the world!
*names changed to protect privacy