2016 was our first full year here in Osijek, Croatia. A lot happens in such a year! Twelve months ago, we lived in a tiny apartment for two with our family of six. Now, we have moved and settled into our new home. We hope to stay in this house for a while. There is room for each of us and even room for guests. Within this first year, 18 people have spent a night or more in our home.
Here are eight highlights of 2016:
- In January, we had a friend over for a month to help us with home schooling. It was lovely to have this support in our time of adjusting to a new culture and getting used to distance education.
- In February, we traveled through five different countries. I wrote five blog posts about it! We visited Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
- Upon arriving home after this trip, we had a few weeks of hard work and more adjustments. With homeschooling and living here, searching for a house, and every-day life, it was quite intense in these months.
- In May, Jelle attended a conference for missiologists in Eastern Europe. He gave a presentation about biblical explanation in a missions context. It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn from the experience of others.
In May, we traveled back to the Netherlands, where we had a surprise sleepover (complete with 10 siblings) for the 45th anniversary of Janneke’s parents. That was a very special occasion as even my brother and his family, who live in Africa, were with us. We felt enormously blessed to be together. And, we were able to celebrate Femke’s 11th birthday with the whole family.
- After that, we finished the first year of homeschooling. It was a big achievement for the girls! It was not always an easy transition, but it has been wonderful to work closely together, see progress, and learn discipline together. Jelle and I are impressed by the hard work of our girls. When we left in 2015, Laurens only spoke Dutch. Now, he is also able to speak English (thanks to his friends Kiki and Zoë) and Croatian, which he learned in kindergarten here in Osijek.
Judith finished primary school and was able to go the final camp with her Dutch class. Jelle traveled back with her, and they had a lovely time traveling together. Judith was grateful and excited to finish her primary school years with her friends.
Somewhere along the way, we moved into our current house. We hope to be finished with moving for quite a while. The long hot summer full of mosquitoes has begun.
It is lovely to see that our connection with the girls gets deeper and more personal the longer we stay. These relationships give us a deep confirmation that Osijek is the place to be for us now.
- At the end of the summer, we got a few more lovely visits, first from Hye-Jin and then from my parents and Jelle’s dad.
- In September, another big thing happened: Marieke van Dreuten arrived. She is our Dutch full-time teacher and a real blessing to us. Without her, it would be quite impossible for us to stay here. Now, it is every day a joy to see the girls going happily to school (most of the year on their bikes; we are Dutch, after all 😉). Here are some pictures: Meer weten, wel zo leuk! (+fotoś) (Translated: The more you know, the better!)
There is a nice atmosphere in the classroom. It is a mix of hard work, discipline, and gezelligheid. We feel deeply blessed with Marieke!
We spent quite a few hours at the stranci (foreigners) department of the police station to get our papers.
- In September, Jelle went again back to the Netherlands for the funeral of his grandma. Also around this time was the big Roma conference in Bekes-Hungary. You can get an impression of what that was like here:
At the moment, Jelle teaches a course about the Reformation here at the theological school. He is also preparing for a week of teaching Roma bible translators in Slovakia in January.
Some of the other projects that keep him busy include work on the audio Bible and the steering committee work for a Scripture Use Conference in April in the Netherlands.
Just in time for Christmas, friends from far away sent us a large package including handmade knit goods to share with people who need them—people like Baka (Grandma) Katica, who was happy to receive a knitted shawl. Her house is falling apart, cold, and only two by two meters across. She needs a lot of wood to keep it warm. It is very nice to meet the material needs of others in such a direct way.
As we look back on this past year, we are very grateful for all God’s good gifts and care. We have found our place in Osijek—close to the Roma we meet at the church for bible study and home visits. We are grateful that the connections are deepening. There is an open door, and we feel blessed that we—thanks to your support, love, and prayers—can enter.
Even though we are human beings with questions and fears, anxieties and doubts, this is the hope we hold on to:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Tim 3 :16
Warm greetings from all of us: Jelle, Janneke, Marijke, Judith, Femke and Laurens.