Goodbye Nis!

After an evening of playing football with some of Nis’ welcoming and generous teenagers, we slept a last short, sweet night in our Oak Hall tents.

At 5:30, the “wakeup committee” launched us into a speedy packdown. With warm goodbyes and prayer we left our friends from the city…

We’re now on the road – cutting through the 41 hour journey before us. The coach is filled with great company, music, some newly invented games and much to talk about…

Right now we are approaching Belgrade…

Here is a photo of some of our new friends from Nis – “Come back soon!” – their parting words. We’d love to.

“Somebody knows we are here…”

“You came back. You said you would.”
– Milos

“By coming all this way across Europe, you make us feel like we exist – somebody knows we are here”
– Mira as we left this afternoon.

“We had to leave Kosovo in 1999. We were put in a city sports hall to live. In 2002 we moved here to these temporary houses. We are still here but hope to have homes soon…”
– Dragana, 13 years old and addressing all of us with poise and maturity – she has lived as a refugee since she was 2.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
– Romans 5:8 – the verse we read and thought over together as we stood in front of the refugee homes.

“Your faithfulness surrounds my soul and Your mercy lifts my head… Hallelujah to the King of Grace.”
– Anna singing a Paul Oakley song to all 150 of us.

An unfinished primary school filled with refugees.

The primary school building was left half-built after the refugees were assigned there. The windows were left uninstalled and the road remained a mud track.

Refugees from this camp are slowly assimilating into the surrounding society but still around 75 call this building “home for now”. There are windows now but not much else had changed – cardboard partitions and unfinished plumbing.

Having walked across the fields we reached the camp…

Here are Neil and Jackie painting a child’s face…

The motel camp

We’re now leaving the motel camp following a generous and warm welcome from our friends here.

“Thank you for the aid supplies and thank you for your friendship. But it’s your friendship that means the most to us…”

We’ve all been drinking Turkish coffee in the small rooms that are now “home”.

Some of these refugees fled from Croatia in the early nineties and were resettled in Kosovo only to be “ethnically cleansed” a second time… It is hard to comprehend the heartbreak they have suffered.

Below are photos of the aid being distributed – always slowly, personally,with a smile and a signature.

Fitting reading glasses and delivering aid a the brick factory camp

We are at our the point furthest south that we will reach on this epic journey.

Here at this camp our two opticians are fitting reading glasses while the rest of us deliver the aid we have brought and chat with these people who have been through so much.

“Your visit means so much to us!” calls one of the women…

Darko – a graduate of the Bible college continues to spend a lot of time each month with these refugees and a number of the children will be coming away on holidays he and others in CEF have organised for them.

Visiting four refugee camps…

We are on the road and driving out of the centre Nis. Our sites are set on Bujanovac – a town squeezed against the eastern border of Kosovo. Eleven years ago, Bujanovac was to be the temporary solution for the refugees fleeing Kosovo. Yet in 2010 they are still here.

We will visit four camps. The first is made in the temporary huts for the workers of a now closed brick factory, the second in an abandoned and unfinished school bulding, the third an obsolete motel and the last temporary wooden homes.

These refugees have become our friends over the course of earlier visits using vans and smaller vehicles. They are looking forward to more of us coming together and are amazed that we should have come overland a total of 2500 kms to reach them.

Through the day I will try to send short bursts of news of what is happning.

Greetings from all on this coach.

Sunday in Nis

It’s been a differently-paced day: a “Sunday-pace” here in Nis… time to be with local people, hear their stories, explore some of the rich history here…

We travelled to Niska Banja – famous for its radon-infused hot springs – some dipped in their feet, the most courageous swam…  We wondered whether any of the group would glow after this exposure!

Using a hotel conference room lent to us for an hour by a friend in Niska Banja we heard more from Darko and Lidija about the strategic work that they do as directors of the work of CEF here in Serbia.  This summer they plan five camps for children as well as a month-long “institute” for those who are training to work with children…

“There are many needs in Serbia – what we need is trained workers here.  Please pray for this!”

In the afternoon we explored the city of Nis and in the evening returned to our makeshift camp at the school… again many local residents joined us – first for a meeting in the sports hall, then for hot chocolate and some games of basket ball.

For the last hour of the evening, we have been working to prepare packages for the four refugee camps that we ambitiously plan to visit tomorrow.

It’s going to be a massive day – we hope to be on the road at 8:30am and we will return around 9 in the evening having driven around 300 kms on small roads down through the corridor between Kosovo and Bulgaria.  Although we have visited these camps before, we have never taken an Oak Hall coach this far south.

There are hundreds of people in these camps – again forgotten by most of the population as well as by the international community.

We will try to keep you posted as tomorrow unfolds – greetings from us all!