Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Speaking their Language

The holidays are finally over and it's time to get back to work this week. After a whirlwind couple of months, it was a nice break to have a little free time over the holidays. We went to several movies at the local theater, which we referred to as "language study." Most movies are shown in English with Croatian subtitles so it is actually a practical way for us to see the language in real life use (kind of). Studying from books and apps on our phones is not quite the same as actually listening to or being part of conversations. Hearing how they express common phrases and how sentences are structured in conversation is very helpful. I have been able to pick up some useful words and phrases as well as some I will definitely not be using. (even from PG13 movies!) LOL! Plus, it's only about $3 for a movie ticket so not only is it useful, it's cheap entertainment as well.

Many people here speak at least a little English so we are usually able to communicate and when we try to speak Bosnian, emphasis on try, they just want to practice their English. Most are very proud of their ability to speak English, however it doesn't help us with our Bosnian conversation skills. We are working on vocabulary and grammar (Denny is studying a bit more intensely that I am) but it is a very complex language. I figure if I have the root of a word or two in a sentence, most locals will get the gist of what I am saying and have a good chuckle at my bad grammar! Google Translate is also my go to these days although some of the translations are very inaccurate in reality! We do feel that knowing the language is important to be able to communicate on a personal level with people. Store clerks and government workers aren't individuals we are trying hard to build personal relationships with, but there a people at church and that we have met volunteering at Riders of Hope that we would like to be able to converse with so we will continue our journey through the maze of Bosanski!

A recent example of applied communication happened this past week. Our combo washing machine decided to quit working. It was working fine, then when I went to put in a new load it wouldn't turn on at all. I assumed it was a fuse or breaker but have no idea where the breaker box is for our apartment. Our neighbor downstairs is the acting landlord so I tried to ask him if he could check the breaker box. Well, of course there isn't a comparable word for "breaker box" in Google Translate. It literally translates as "break the box" which makes no sense and I'm terrible at charades so what should have been a two minute conversation turned into about a 15 minute guessing game. I eventually got him to understand that my washing machine was not working, he came up and I showed him that it would not turn on and that I suspected it was the electric outlet. I plugged the iPad in to show him it didn't work. Then he said someone will come and look at it.... sometime. That's where we ended the conversation. We went and bought an extension cord and plugged the washer into a different outlet and will patiently await the arrival of someone to fix the outlet.... sometime! I'm not positive if a better command of the local language would have netted different results, but I doubt it. But it would have been nice to have a genuine conversation with him, to get to know him a little better and start building a relationship that doesn't revolve around something in the apartment being broken!

Another example happened today. There is an older man who recently joined the church. He is a war veteran who suffers with an old injury to his leg as well as chronic back problems. He lives in a small home near the top of one of the mountains surrounding Sarajevo. As the temperatures plummeted well below freezing here we were worried about him so we tried to go check on him last Sunday. He was not home, but a neighbor was able to tell us he went to a senior center so he would be warm and have food. However, we had no idea where the center was or if he was doing okay. Because the previous week he was suffering from debilitating back pain and was unable to get out of bed and he was not answering his phone, we were extremely concerned for his welfare. Ultimately, I reached out to a Red Cross staff member who has become a good friend and asked if he knew of any places that someone in his situation might have gone. He was able to give us the name of a center to check and miraculously he was there. After church the young missionaries came with us to check on him. As we walked into his room he was overcome with emotion that we actually cared enough about him to seek him out. He conversed back and forth with the missionaries and explained his situation and expressed his gratitude. I was able to understand some of what was said, but it was frustrating not to be able to be part of the conversation, to express my personal concern for him myself instead of having to speak through the missionaries. Thankfully, he is warm, has food and has people to help him meet his basic needs. The missionaries went to his home and got his phone charger while Denny and I came home and I made cookies. We then took these things to him and once again I was unable to truly speak to him personally. It made me want to work a little harder on learning the language, not so I can order food at a restaurant or ask where the passport office is. But so I am able to understand people's needs and express my love and concern for them.

Elder Isom and our lost and found friend

We had a zone conference here in Sarajevo this week. It had been postponed from the previous week due to the snow. There is one other senior couple in our zone and we always enjoy spending time with them when the opportunity arises. This time we were happy to have an additional senior couple from the Croatia zone join us. They were sick and unable to attend their zone conference so they came to ours instead. The six of us went out for dinner two nights in a row and enjoyed a little shopping in old town, talking and eating. We all feel a little isolated at times in our individual cities and it's nice to get together once in a while.

We also took the missionaries out to dinner this week and had a few good laughs. Elder Isom was brave and tried the salmon sushi. This was not a nice, yummy sushi roll, just raw salmon on a bed of sticky rice. Here's his attempt at choking it down...

Not to be left out of the sushi eating group, Sister Locey also attempted to eat a piece of spicy salmon roll. Keep in mind, she does not like fish or vegetables much so this was quite out of her comfort zone. She didn't gag, but she also did not take a second piece. We sure love these young missionaries and always feel blessed to spend time with them.

On Friday night the younger missionaries and Denny and I were invited to be the guests of a local Muslim center. When the missionaries in our area want a copy of the Quran they contact one of the members of this group to buy them so that is how the connection was made. We weren't sure what we had been invited to attend other than to have "cavapi." As it turned out, it was just the six of us and they shared a 45 minute video presentation with our little group of missionaries that explained the basic tenants of their beliefs and explained that they are focused on bringing peace to the world. Everything was in English so the spoken language was not an issue. They served us chicken fillets, french fries (they eat more fries here than we do in the US!) vegetables, bread and a nice dessert. As we ate we exchanged our thoughts on several religious doctrines and asked questions of each other. They are not mainstream Muslim so it was interesting to learn of their beliefs. It was not at all what I was expecting, but overall it was a very friendly introduction to their beliefs and an extension of their friendship here in Sarajevo. This was a language I understood.

Preparing the video presentation.
They are working hard to
spread their message of peace. 

Focused or trying to stay awake?? 
Their leader explaining their ideas of heaven and hell
They wanted a group picture, but only one of
their group joined for the photo. 

This coming week we will be on the road again monitoring the delivery of water project supplies to three schools throughout Bosnia as well as a baptism on Friday in Tuzla. It's all conditional on the weather of course so you'll have to wait until next week to see what really happens! We will continue to work on our six approved projects and soon will start seeking opportunities for additional projects with our 2017 budget. There are so many needs here it is difficult to narrow down the number of projects to submit to stay within our budget. We wish we had an unlimited budget and could help everyone in need.

We love you all and know that the Lord is blessing us with small miracles everyday, both here and with our friends and family at home.


  1. During our "language studies" we discovered that both Passengers and Collateral Beauty are much better than their collective Rotten Tomato Meter Scores. We heartily recommend both movies.

  2. I love reading about your adventures. I think you both are so talented at writing them up. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks for the note. It is so interesting to hear of your experiences.

  4. Great read. Feel like I spent the week
    With you. Miss you guys but do love reading about your journeys. Be safe 😙