Andrew and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Croatia with some friends of ours. It was a wonderful vacation, and Croatia is a beautiful country! We had a blast swimming in the Adriatic Sea, wandering around medieval cities, gorgeous National Parks, and Roman ruins, eating delicious Mediterranean food, and even driving mopeds all over an island! While there we were also able to interact with the Croatian people that we met. Andrew is pretty good with languages, and he was able to pick up a few key phrases and start up conversations with the locals, and other tourists, that we met along the way. A few of these conversations were so interesting and thought provoking that I wanted to share them with you.
The first conversation was with a hostess at a restaurant we ate at in Zadar. It was July fourth and one of the waiters stopped by our table to wish us a “Happy Fourth of July!” The hostess joined the conversation and said she had seen an episode of Jimmy Kimmel where he interviewed people on the street asking them why we celebrate July 4th. Of course, no one could give him the correct answer. The hostess was glad to learn that we did know and said, “You know, I think it’s very sad that Americans forget their history. If you don’t know that, what can you know?” As a history teacher, I shared her concern! I know I’m a little biased, but history is important, and in order to know which direction to head, it is helpful to know where you’re coming from. She said how strange it is that the world’s most powerful country can forget the acts that created it, and indeed made it great in the first place. She admitted that a lot of times, when she thinks of the United States, she thinks of that Jimmy Kimmel clip, and reality TV shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians. She told us she knows it’s not fair to think of Americans that way, but it is what she sees most often. It was a sad realization for us that people see us through such a lens, especially as Christians. It was even sadder to realize that stereotypes often exist because, in some way, they ring true. As Americans traveling abroad, it is important to remember that people may view us through the reality-TV lens, but through having knowledge of our own culture, and the humility to seek to know other cultures, we can combat that stereotype and better connect with people around the world. It’s also important to remember that just as we don’t want to be judged by any American stereotypes, we should be careful not to judge others by stereotypes either!
Another conversation we had was with a large group of people on a tour we took of Kornati National Park, an archipelago of 89 islands off the coast of Croatia. During the boat tour we met a French couple, an American couple who were working at a Department of Defense school in Germany, a Danish couple working at a Christian school, a Croatian girl and a French guy who worked in Sweden, an Italian couple, and a Croatian woman fluent in 5 languages (she was our tour guide). Quite a diverse group! At one point during lunch, we were all having a conversation around the table, and it was being carried on in several different languages, with all of us participating! It was so cool! With different people translating for others at different times, we somehow all talked about our jobs, our travels, our different cultures and experiences, the food… it was incredible really. In that one-hour lunch conversation I was so struck by the similarities we all shared, and by how beautiful the differences were. All those languages – whether a bit broken, or translated, or supplemented with hand gestures – conversing together was one of the most interesting and lovely things to listen to. I hope to have more conversations like that once we get to Bolivia! We are really hoping to learn Spanish, but I know in the beginning we will need to rely on the kindness of others as we stumble through the more grammatically difficult parts of the language. This conversation made me hopeful that even with a bit of a limp, we will still be able to walk alongside people there and not have too much lost in translation.
The final conversation I’d like to share with you was with a man named Branko. He actually sold us the tickets to the Kornati excursion. He rides around the city on his bicycle with a big sign on the back advertising the tour. At the top of the sign is an ichthys (or more commonly referred to as a “Jesus fish”) and big block letters saying “Jesus loves you!” Upon meeting Branko to buy the tickets, we mentioned his sign and told him we were Christians. He was so excited, and told us that he meets lots of Christians from all over the world who notice his sign and stop him to chat. He told us, “First, I show people that Jesus loves them. Then, I show them Kornati.” He even invited us to attend the Pentecostal church with him in Zadar if we were going to be around on Sunday. We talked about our church in Indianapolis, Redeemer Presbyterian, and our different church backgrounds, and it was great to chat about the global church and how the Spirit is alive and well worldwide. It was an awesome reminder of how vast and diverse the church is. Heaven will be filled with multiple denominations, languages, ethnicities, cultures, and traditions – all worshipping ONE Savior! So cool! It is easy to forget that sometimes, as we become comfortable with our own church and style of worship, so we were glad to meet Branko and have such an enlightening conversation with him.
Croatia was good to us in so many ways. We were able to rest, and spend quality time with each other and with our friends. And, through these conversations and others, we were able to learn a lot. These lessons and reminders were particularly important during this time as we prepare to move to a new country and a new culture. I hope that we can represent the United States with humility, engage with the Bolivian people, culture, and language, and get involved in a new church home there quickly.
Please be praying for us this week as we say our goodbyes to our Redeemer church family, our home, our friends, and our families. It will not be easy, but we are definitely excited about our upcoming move!