Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Catching Up!

This is the former hotel Portin, which is now a center
that houses nearly 500 people while they wait, often
as long as a year, to be granted asylum and be allowed
to remain in Croatia on a permanent basis. 
Sorry we missed posting last week! We were having a fantastic time touring the beautiful Balkans and sharing our mission with Denny's sister, Downi and her husband, Boyce during their visit. As far as humanitarian work the past couple of weeks, we took Downi and Boyce with us on our first visit to refugee centers in Zagreb, Croatia. Most of the nearly 500 people in the main center are seeking asylum in Croatia. They are from various areas including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and have been forced to flee their home countries due to war and persecution. Compared to many refugee camps, the accommodations at Portin in Zagreb were actually quite nice. It is a former hotel that the federation has designated as temporary living quarters for those who are displaced and waiting for a decision about being allowed to remain in Croatia and become part of the Croatian society.

For most, Croatia was not their fist choice. Many of the neighboring countries are now closing their borders or significantly limiting the number of refugees who are allowed to enter. While the number of refugees in Croatia is relatively small compared to other countries, the problem is real. They must apply for asylum and then wait for a decision, which usually takes 6-12 months. During that time they are not allowed to work for pay and must just wait.

Because they can not work legally while they await a decision
there is very little for them to do but sit and wait. The center does
offer some options, such as Croatian language classes, art classes,
an exercise gym and a computer lab where they can learn basic computer
skills at scheduled times. But mostly they just have to wait. 

 The government has a good system in place to meet the most basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, but not much else. The Red Cross is the key partner that operates the center and there are several additional NGOs such as Save the Children and UNICEF to name a few, that help with small projects at the center, but there is no coordinated efforts between them. We met with the center director and were guided by the Red Cross coordinator for asylum seekers and migrants. He gave us a very thorough tour of the facility and described many of the programs that are in place to assist the residents during their lengthy stay. He also shared some of their greatest needs. 

These girls were so excited to practice speaking English when they
heard us talking! They followed us around for most of our visit.
While they have all had major trials in their young lives, they
still had big smiles on their faces.
The second center is located in Kutina, approximately 45 minutes southeast of Zagreb. It houses only vulnerable groups, including families with children, unaccompanied minors and those with disabilities. They, too, are primarily asylum seekers. This facility is much smaller and houses a maximum of 100 people in 20 rooms. While their situation is not ideal, we saw many happy faces. We were most impressed by one father whose family is living here. He has taken it upon himself to contribute to the center in a variety of ways. Instead of sitting around doing nothing useful all day for months, he has jumped in and used his talents to make the center better for everyone. He has created a woodworking shop where he has made furniture and other wood items for the center, he has also been actively involved in getting the gym facilities set up and several beautification projects around the center. One of the best things about this is that he is also teaching skills to other men in the center and helping them to contribute as well. While he could be bitter and angry about is current circumstances in an unfamiliar country where he does not even speak the language, instead he is a true example of service and love being a universal language. 

This is an example of the some of the wooden pallet furniture
the man has made. This will be especially nice as the spring
weather is arriving and will provide a great place for the center
residents to enjoy being outside in the fresh air and sunshine. 

Mug shots of a few of the former inhabitants
of the "Elder's Apartment" who should have
joined us for the cleaning party! Recognize anyone?
The week before Downi and Boyce arrived was a busy one for us. While doing apartment inspections we determined that the elders needed to be relocated for a variety of reasons so I spent the better part of the week looking for a new apartment for them. We then spent several days with the missionaries packing and cleaning the old apartment. Let's just say after five consecutive years of rotating young men living in the apartment with no maid (or mom), it was quite a chore.  The young sisters were very helpful and gave up their preparation day to help as well! The elders are now settled into their new apartment which is much closer to the church and the area they work in most often. Their favorite thing about the new apartment is that they don't have to haul groceries all the way up the hill now!

Pretty sure this couch hadn't been cleaned under in 5 years!

Sister Rougeau making sure the windows were clean.

Elder Echols packing up for the big move!

Elder Perry got the worst job, although I did
assist with the inside of the shower that was
really, really nasty. It took steel wool to clean it.
The current elders told me "it was that way when
we got here so we just thought that's what it was
supposed to look like!" Oh my....

Sister Martineau is a meticulous window cleaner and told me
she actually loves to clean! Poor girl didn't know what she
was getting herself into when she volunteered to help! 

Besides looking for a new apartment and cleaning the old one here in Sarajevo, we also did district meeting in Tuzla and apartment inspections there as well. Thankfully, all was well with the Tuzla apartments! From Tuzla, we then traveled to Sapna to follow up on one of our school water projects and see the work they had done so far. We supplied sanitation materials for two of their schools. They are making progress on the projects, but are only able to work on things when the students are not there. The major work will be done once students break for the summer, but they are doing some of the smaller projects now.
New sinks, faucets and mirrors where non functioning ones used to be!
When we scheduled our visit, they insisted that we plan to join them for dinner followed by volleyball on our visit. We just assumed we would eat at a little local restaurant and were very surprised that after our walk through to see the work they had completed, we were escorted to one of the large classrooms where we were greeted by many school staff and the mayor of the small town where the school is located. All the women had prepared authentic Bosnian food for us and we were treated like celebrities. It was a wonderful surprise. Great food and even better company!

The school director insisted we chooses a piece of student artwork
that was displayed on the walls. I chose this one because it is
of their small town and will remind me of the special people
we have met here when we go home.

What amazing food prepared by these ladies!

This is Elvira, the English teacher who translates for us at this school.
Her little boy is adorable and made me miss my grandchildren even more!
Not only is she a great help to us, I now consider her my friend. 

The school director enjoying the wonderful food. He didn't want to eat
too much before volleyball, but couldn't help himself it was so good. 

The mayor and some of the school staff who joined us.

Denny (in the light blue shirt, yes he is jumping!)
 has been wanting to go play volleyball with them since
our first meeting. They have some really good players and
it was "real" volleyball, not just a pick up game!

The ladies played volleyball for about 45 minutes before the
men took over. It was a lot of fun and reminded me how out
of shape I am! This is Elvira and the director's wife. (Sorry,
I can't remember her name). I'm glad Denny didn't know
where the camera was when I was playing.
This selfie is bad enough. Haha!
On our way to meet Downi and Boyce in Slovenia, we stopped in Domaljevac near the northern Bosnia/Croatia border to check on another water project and make a payment to a local supplier for additional project materials. And, oh yeah, we had to stop in a town near there to pay for two speeding tickets. In Bosnia they have a lot of radar cameras that are located in various places. The notices are then sent to whoever the car is registered to, which in our case is the church building. Once the notice is received, information about the driver of the car must be submitted to the appropriate police station within a week or so or there is a very significant fine. The funniest thing is that the notices may not arrive for many, many months. The church received six tickets in the past several weeks. Two were from April of last year, two were from May, one was from August and one from December. Due to the nature of missionaries moving throughout the mission area as well as going home, it is often difficult to determine who was actually driving the car. Also the driver information has to be someone who lives in Bosnia. Long story short, I have now "taken" three tickets in my name and actually didn't even live in the country for any of them. Once the information is supplied, the ticket is issued and then it must be paid in the city were it was issued from. It's a very odd system. Fortunately, if you are not a resident they do not affect your driving record. Needless to say, we were happy that we had a project visit near there scheduled at a time when tickets needed to be paid because it's about four hours away! I'm sure Emir, the church attorney who assists with all mission legal things including tickets, is about ready to revoke everyone's drivers licenses. It sure would make his job easier! 

It was hard to say goodbye to Downi and Boyce on Thursday. It was so nice to see family and enjoy time together doing missionary work and seeing the country. This weekend we get the pleasure of seeing Erica and Brayden. We will only get to spend Sunday and part of Monday with them, but we are extremely excited to see them too! We will do a visit to a school for children with disabilities in Banja Luka on Thursday this week, followed by Zone conference on Friday and potentially another visit to the refugee centers in Zagreb on Saturday before joining them. After our brief visit in Slovenia with Erica and Brayden we will be driving straight to the western part of Serbia, about 8 1/2 hours away, for the Adriatic North Senior Missionary conference which starts on Tuesday at 1:00. I'm so thankful I don't get car sick and only get sick of being in the car because this mission sure does require much traveling! Thankfully spring has finally arrived, there are blossoms on the trees, flowers blooming and the mountains are alive with green again. It's a beautiful time of the year and we are so blessed to have the opportunity to serve God's children in this part of the world. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your great posts and sharing your missionary experiences. The young elders and sisters will always remember you and how you acted as temporary grandparents.