TITUS FAMILY - MISSIONARIES IN CROATIA
ARCHIVE OF UPDATES
Attached is the September issue of our Croatia Update. It is basically a shortened version of the letter you received last week, informing you of our decision to end our missionary service and return to the United States. We thank you for the kind words of encouragement we have received from you and appreciate your support in this decision. We will continue to send you monthly updates as long as we are in the field, as we want you to be informed of the ministry that is ongoing on your behalf.
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Titus Family to end mission, return to U.S.
by Rev. Eric Titus
After more than five years in Croatia, Nancy and I are ending our missionary service and returning to the United States. We target the end of the year for our return and do not know yet what we will do. You may have heard this news already, but we wanted all our supporters to understand what went into this decision.
Among our back and forth conversations about Croatia over the past months, we said things like, "How is it possible for us to stay longer?" to "Maybe it's time for us to go home; maybe we have accomplished what we came to do" Eventually we decided the latter.
The foremost question on everyone's mind will of course be the reason that we decided to leave. While that question is easy to ask, it is not easy to answer. There is, in the end, no one reason that finally ruled, or final straw that broke the camel's back. Rather, a number of factors came together, some of course weighing more heavily than others, but none being the lynchpin of the decision. Still, while not getting into great detail, we do feel we want to share with you some of the elements going into our decision.
To begin with, there have been changes with our partners here in Croatia. A new bishop was elected in the Reformed Christian Church in Croatia, which brought to the fore the question of communication since the new bishop and I shared no language in which we could communicate. In addition, much of the work that I did with the former bishop was transferred to an indigenous person who is capable of the ecumenical tasks that I was often called on to perform. That an indigenous person was appointed is exactly what should happen, and we rejoice in this.
There have also been changes within the seminary. We are one of (if not the last) remaining missionaries on the faculty. More and more, the seminary is being funded, both intellectually and economically, by regional personnel and financing. More often than not students are paying tuition rather than being sponsored by western scholarship money. This is a good thing as well. These are very different realities from our arrival five years ago and show the ways the seminary is adjusting to its changing environment. While the seminary would like to see us stay for years to come, we have to ask if our missionary task is done. We believe that it is.
There are also issues within our family that we had to consider. As many of you know, the education of our children has been an ongoing struggle. We did our best to make the public schools in Croatia work for us, but in the end had to remove each of our children for different issues. Homeschooling has provided a stopgap solution for the last few years, but we are simply at the point where this will no longer work for all our children. Longer-term solutions were simply out of the question given budgetary constraints. We also have the consideration of our extended families, especially with aging parents.
We have been proud to represent the RCA as missionaries. We have received unimaginable support from you, our partner churches and individuals. There is no possible way for us to thank you enough, or to tell you how deeply your spiritual and financial support was and is appreciated. Your remembrance of us as we were so far away from you was simply overwhelming, moving us often past the point of tears. Those of you at the grassroots level of the RCA are simply marvelous. No less so was our supervisor Duncan Hanson who met us at every crisis, supported us through every need, and did all that he could to make sure that we realized our full potential. Truly, the RCA is a remarkable mission agency with which to work!
We have gained and been enriched by our time here and will always grateful to you for making this possible. We also thank you in advance for standing with us through all the details to come as we transition home.
Attached is our monthly edition of Croatia Update. In it, I describe what we have been up to the last couple of weeks -- conferences! Eric attended one in Romania, and both of us went to one for our seminary teaching staff. You will be glad to know that Eric's headaches are still under control with the medication he got through the neurologist in Budapest. We are thankful that he is able to get back to work as normal.
Tomorrow we will leave Osijek for Prague for Eric's graduation ceremony. We would appreciate your prayers for the details about this trip. One issue we would particularly request prayer for is our re-entry into Croatia. Our visas will expire while we are gone. We have completed all the paperwork, but Croatia will not give us new visas until the old ones have expired. They have given us a piece of paper that we can present to the border agents, but experience has taught us that you never know what they will choose to be particular about. Please pray that we have no problems with this or any other traveling issue. We are excited about the graduation and about seeing Eric's mother, who will fly into Prague and return with us to Croatia.
Thank you for your faithful prayers and financial support of our ministry.
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Conferences encourage discipleship, teaching
By Nancy Titus
Within the Great Commission, Jesus gives the mandate for the church to both make disciples and to teach those disciples to obey everything that He commanded. While this command applies to all Christians all the time, it is particularly the task of the seminary to promote discipleship and to teach those who will lead the church.
Reflecting on just how the church around the world answers this command was our theme for the first half of May as both Eric and I attended special meetings designed to help us do our work better.
First, Eric spent a week attending a regional meeting in Bucharest, Romania, organized by the former academic dean at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, where we work. This academic conference focused on the theme of discipleship, something particularly apropos for a seminary group that exists to train pastors.
During the conference, Eric presented a paper on discipleship in the ethics of Karl Barth.
"Barth starts from creation where the first command to the creature was to live," he said. The second command to live, found in Exodus, was to let the other live. Our ethic of discipleship has to be based upon the command to life, not just ours but the life of others.
"And Christian ethics moves even further, so that the life of the disciple is laid down for the life of the other."
We were thankful that God graciously answered your prayers and that Eric was able to attend this conference as scheduled. Because of the headache problem he had the two months before, there was some question as to whether or not he would be able to go. Thankfully, his headaches are under control through medication.
As soon as he returned from the Romanian conference, Eric joined the rest of the faculty at the Croatia seminary in a teachers' seminar designed to help us do our jobs better.
The workshop was presented through a gift of the Langham Institute, John Stott's organization that helps further theological education in Second and Third World countries. The presenter was Steve Hardy, an expert on theological education around the world.
He reminded us that the Great Commission's emphasis on teaching lets us know that teaching itself is very important to God. This is true at all levels, whether you are teaching children or adults, new believers or old, and it is certainly important when you are teaching those who will teach others in the church, as we do in seminary.
Hardy encouraged our teaching faculty with stories from around the world, bringing examples of things that have worked as well as things that have not.
One way he encouraged us was that we should not just look at the things that need to be fixed in our school but also to concentrate on the things that go well, the things that are bringing glory to the Lord.
Another way that God teaches people through us - whether in seminary or in the local church - is through who we are in the Lord. This takes the emphasis off merely conveying the content of the course being taught to the character of both the teacher and the student, which is the area that God most wants to develop.
In another area of our ministry, the Reformed Christian Church in Croatia has named a new leader, Bishop Lajos, who took over following the end of the term for Rev. Endre Langh. It is not clear at this time what our role with the church will be in the future since the new bishop does not speak English. His primary language, as well as 90 percent of the church, is Hungarian. Eric had served as a personal advisor to the previous bishop and had represented the denomination at international gatherings. We ask you please keep the church in all its transitions in prayer.
Attached is the April issue of our Croatia Update. In it, we give a bit of a review about Eric's medical issues related to a sudden onset of excruciating headaches as well as discuss an English teachers conference I will attend. We thank you for your prayers for Eric, as we will be going to Budapest this Wednesday for more tests. We will keep you posted on his progress.
Also, I mention in the article that our English department will be buying new coursebooks, which we will be reviewing at this upcoming conference. The RCA has promised to match the funds the seminary spends for this purpose. We anticipate that the entire project will cost about $8,000. We have some money set aside already for the RCA portion, but we need about $2,500 to complete our contribution. If any of your churches would like to give toward this amount, please let me know and mark your gifts "Titus -- English books" when you send them to the regular address.
Thank you again for your care and concern for us all the time. We are privileged to be your missionaries here in Croatia!
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Travel for testing, learning marks April plans
By Nancy Titus
As I write this issue, my mind is focused on two big trips. As most of you read this, Eric and I will be back in Budapest for additional medical tests seeking the cause of Eric's sudden onset of serious headaches. Then, Lord willing, I will join other English teachers from across Croatia for a conference designed to improve our classroom skills.
First, I want to thank all of our supporters for your prayers for Eric during this troubled season. He began having excruciating headaches on Feb. 25 and was only able to get relief with strong prescription painkillers. Unfortunately, the prescription he got from his general practitioner here in Osijek was not good for another serious condition he has and caused lots of nausea. We have been to see four specialists in Osijek and Budapest and have had all sorts of tests run to try to get to the root of the headaches. Unfortunately, we do not know the cause, but we think we have at least gotten better medication to manage the pain.
Along the way, we have learned even more about the Croatian health system, including finding two private clinics here in Osijek where we were able to see specialists quickly and got needed tests literally months before we would have through the public hospital. Even so, we decided we needed to take the additional step to go to a clinic in Budapest. This clinic has three really important features not available here in Croatia: it accepts our U.S. insurance, it has U.S. board-certified doctors, and everyone speaks English. All of those factors gave us extra confidence and made it well worth the four-hour drive to Budapest. In addition, we were able to stay with Dick and Carolyn Otterness, RCA missionaries and close friends who live in Budapest.
We ask that you continue to pray for Eric, for his doctors, and for our family as we deal with whatever issues we face in the coming days related to his medical condition. One thing that is so obvious to us is that God is watching out for us and bringing the right people into our lives at the right time. This, too, is a result of the prayers of so many. We also appreciate your words of encouragement that help us keep our heads up when things get tough.
Even as we deal with this medical situation, I am excited about the prospect of attending my first national conference of the Croatian Association of Teachers of English. I look forward to rubbing shoulders with Croatian colleagues who are also trying to give students access to the world through fluency in our global language. As a native speaker, I am something of a novelty in our local meetings though there is one other American member. It is great to get to know a whole other group of Croats who are working toward the same goal. Meeting people outside the church is also an opportunity for me to learn more about the culture in which we live.
I have been a member of this group for three years, and this year, I have been working to get my teaching staff involved as well. Traveling to the national conference along with me will be a Croatian woman who has taught English at our seminary for a year and a half as well as another colleague from our sister institution in the capital city of Zagreb.
In addition to the continuing education workshops that will help us with practical classroom issues, we expect to work together to coordinate our programs at both institutions. Also, our Osijek campus has been given authorization to buy much-needed course books for students, and the conference offers the only opportunity for us to look through the actual books rather than just at catalogs. This is a big expenditure, with matching funds promised by the RCA, so we want to make sure that we choose the right materials to give our students systematic progression in their English abilities and that will last the department a long time. I welcome your prayers as well for our selection of these materials.
Attached is our February edition of our column, Croatia Update. In it, I discuss a curious thing I have noticed with the packaging of products using the American flag, even when those products are made in Europe or China. This is just another way that, as missionaries, we learn to view ourselves through the eyes of others. I hope you find it interesting.
Our work is busy at this time of the year as the first semester nears an end and professors and students alike prepare for finals. Eric has had a particularly busy time of it, as he taught his undergraduate class for three hours on Friday, followed by three hours of an evening session for an intensive master's course, followed by six hours with the master's students on Saturday. Then he preached at a special ecumenical service Tuesday night. It was exhausting, but it is the prayers of supporters like you that get us through these extra duties when they come up.
Thank you for standing with us through your gifts of prayer and finances. We ask God's blessing on you and your work as well.
In His Name,
RCA Missionary in Croatia
American flag sells products here, but why?
By Nancy Titus
We are all accustomed to seeing American flag motifs on all sorts of products in the United States, but it is an odd twist to see it on German- or Chinese-made products sold on another continent. Meanwhile iconic American brands, such as Colgate, Tide, or Cheerios, leave their American connections invisible to the buyer.
In U.S. stores, the flag on a package usually indicates the product's origin, letting the American consumer know it was made in the good 'ole USA. Here it apparently is a way for Europeans to indicate it is somehow like what Americans use, whether or not any of the product actually comes from the United States.
Many brands of popcorn, for example, have some kind of stars and stripes pattern on the packaging though the brand itself is European as is the corn inside.
One of first such brands I came across when we were new to Croatia was Kelly's microwave popcorn, sold in individual bags with very prominent use of the American flag as part of the labeling. I found it interesting to learn that an American, trying to teach Austrians to eat this snack, started Kelly's in Austria in 1955. At least there is an American connection behind this explicitly European business success.
Another high-profile use of the American flag is on a store-brand microwave popcorn that comes to us from Denmark. The flag wraps around three sides of the box, which clearly states it contains "American style" popcorn. I cannot see that there is any other style available, however, and there are several brands and varieties on the shelves.
Peanuts are another product often emblazoned with the American flag though some of the nuts are actually grown the United States. In this case, again, I think the packaging merely shows that Europeans associate peanuts with America. Many peanut packages have a red, white, and blue color scheme and include various forms of the Stars and Stripes, some taking up almost the entire can or plastic packaging even when the peanuts come from China.
Not all brands of popcorn or peanuts use this "American" branding of their products, but it is frequent enough that I was quite surprised recently when I found an orange package of pistachios in the nut aisle with a complete American flag up in the top corner. This truly was an indication of the origin of these nuts.
Perhaps the most curious flag usage is on a particular brand of peanut butter, a product almost universally known to be American. Here in Croatia, it is difficult to find. When we first arrived, one store stocked a small quantity of Skippy - in the refrigerated section! I guess the word "butter" meant to someone that it needed to be kept cold. I haven't seen a national brand here in years (then again maybe I just don't know where to look), but there is a Macedonian brand I can sometimes find. This small jar features a red, white, and blue striped label with white stars and a blue shadow of the Statue of Liberty, but the only "American" thing about it is the idea of peanut butter.
Our first Fourth of July in Croatia, after we had been here only a month, we celebrated quietly with a dinner of hamburgers cooked on the stove. Our "centerpiece" was a metal tube of something marked "barbecue," featuring an American flag. I didn't even know what it was when I bought it. It turned out to fit right in with our meal, however, as it was mustard, of German origin.
In a similar vein but on a larger scale is New Yorker, a German-based clothing company with 837 stores across Europe, including here in Osijek. Again, it is an example of Europeans choosing an American symbol as a vehicle to sell their own goods.
Seeing others use our national symbols is an interesting part of living abroad and yet another way we learn about our world.
Attached is our January issue of the Croatia Update, in which we thank God for what He is doing. Chief among our thanks is you, our supporters! Also, if any of you did not hear, Eric did pass his dissertation defense and was awarded his doctorate on Nov. 30. We will still travel to Prague in May for graduation, but he has officially earned the designation doctor of theology! Thanks for your prayers and support along the way!
We also ask for prayer for our student, Boban Petrovic, a Serbian who awoke last Wednesday to the news that his father had died unexpectedly during the night. You can imagine his pain, compounded by the fact that he was planning to see his family the following week at the Christmas break. Thankfully, a few of his fellow students were able to travel to Serbia on a snowy day to support him during the funeral.
We also pray for you to have the joy and peace of our faithful Savior this Christmas! May all your celebrations be filled with His light!
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Snowy days provide sheltered thanksgiving
By Nancy Titus
The blast of winter gives us all good reason to be thankful for basics like a cozy place to warm our feet after a cold walk. Though our seminary is only two blocks from our house, it can seem much longer when the wind blows and the sidewalks are slippery with snow or ice. Even so, it seems rather nice that we can make the trip by foot rather than having to get the car out on the messy streets.
As we begin this new year, we want to express our thanks for the many things the Lord has done for us. First on any such list is our gratitude to God for giving us such wonderful supporters who are faithful all year long to send financial support, to cover us in prayer, and to provide encouraging words along the way. We cannot begin to express how much all of these things mean to us. Some of you we had known for years before we became missionaries, and some are friends whom we have met because of our work in Croatia. What a joy to work along with you in what God is doing here in this land!
We also offer thanksgiving to God for the completion of Eric's doctoral degree. As most of you know by now, he successfully defended his dissertation on Nov. 30 and was awarded the degree of doctor of theology from the Protestant Faculty of Charles University in Prague. With your prayers and God's help, he was able to complete a six-year program in just four years, saving thousands on tuition and providing the seminary with much needed credentials. Having the weight of this study off Eric's shoulders is truly a relief! Now, all we have left as far as official visits to Prague is graduation in May.
We are also thankful to God for our students and the opportunity to invest in their lives. We cannot always see what is taking hold, but we plant seeds or water seeds others have planted, knowing that God is building his church here as everywhere.
Eric is grateful that he can help train students in systematic theology and that he gets to teach a special course this year on Karl Barth. Students have responded well to his courses, and for that he thanks God.
As for me, I thank God that my classes at the seminary are going better than ever. I am teaching beginning composition for the fourth time and am grateful for God's help in developing this course. Though I have many years experience as a professional writer, I never tried to teach anyone to write until I became a missionary. I have had to do this from scratch, learning by trial and error the many basics our students do not know about writing and designing ways to fill that gap. I believe the course is useful in bringing students with almost no formal writing instruction into position to begin the hard work of doing college-level composition. That leads us well into the second semester course, where we learn the basics of the essay.
We are thankful as well for God's provision for our children, educationally, emotionally, and socially.
Samuel, in particular, loves his on-line classes, especially classical literature. Before Christmas, he finished Plato's Republic and began reading Aristotle. He loves the discussion with his teacher and the other students, a couple of whom, like him are overseas. The course is as engaging for him as it is challenging.
The girls also enjoy their on-line classes and have developed their computer skills for work and play, navigating the internet and keeping tabs on friends in the United States as well.
In closing, we ask you to remember one of our students in prayer. Just before our Christmas break, Boban Petrovic was informed that his father died unexpectedly during the night. He left school a week early to attend the funeral and support his family. Pray for his hurting heart and for strength to complete his theological program as planned this spring.
Attached is the December issue of our Croatia Update. In it I describe something that happened this past week when a speaker in our chapel service presented erroneous teaching. This is the reason we are here -- to help the church train leaders who can recognize and address such ideas before they take hold in their people. Though the situation may seem to have been a negative, it really worked out as a great positive as it gave students and professors the opportunity to discuss not just the errors themselves but a variety of related things. Along the way, students were able to see how important truth is and how the various theological disciplines work together to ensure truth in teaching.
We ask God's blessing upon you as you prepare for Thanksgiving. We will be sharing this special day with 11 of our fellow Americans living here in Croatia. Then Eric and I will leave for Prague on Sunday for his dissertation defense, which is set for Tuesday, Nov. 30. Please pray for Eric as he prepares for this important last step in his doctoral program, and pray for him in particular on Nov. 30 -- or rather the day before as it will be 4 a.m. Eastern time when he goes into the defense meeting!
Thank you for your constant loving support of our family as we work here in Croatia. We could not even begin to attempt this without all you do to make it happen. We know ours are not the only sacrifices being made to allow us to be here in Croatia, and we ask God to bless you "good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over" because of what you have given to Him!
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Correcting bad theology all in day's work
By Nancy Titus
The speakers brought great enthusiasm and passion for Christ, which is something we love our seminary students to see firsthand. With their distinctive style, the two women spoke in chapel about their encounter with Jesus Christ and His impact on their native country. The service was going a long way to bring the world to students and allowing them to see authentic expressions of Christianity that are different from their own.
However, as the second speaker continued, something was not right. The more she talked, the more uncomfortable Eric and others became. She was speaking of theological ideas that had been condemned by the early church because they contradicted the heart of Christianity. There was Gnosticism, dualism, and fatalism, among many of the side issues they spawn.
Just as Eric was trying to formulate within himself how to respond to this onslaught of erroneous teaching in our seminary worship service, a colleague stood up and asked the lady to stop speaking. One point she had been championing was that "the real you is spirit, and the flesh is only a box" so that when you die, your spirit goes to be with the Lord, but your unimportant body turns to dust. The professor countered this error with words from the Apostle's Creed: "We believe in the resurrection of the body!"
Students were given an opportunity to talk with professors after chapel to answer any questions, and a decision was made to combine the systematic theology classes two days later to address in detail the errors raised and their implications for the church and individuals.
The pastor of a local Pentecostal church heard about what had happened at chapel and went to Eric to get more information since the women were speaking that night at his church. It was a beautiful example of the church and seminary working together for the good of both. The pastor even asked Eric to meet personally with the ladies the following day.
There was no intent to deceive on the part of our guest speakers, but the teaching they presented undercut the very core beliefs of the gospel. That was why they had to be addressed as immediately and thoroughly as they were.
The whole thing provided a textbook case of why the church needs theological training. Quite often, people with a story to tell are given a platform to share with the Body of Christ, especially if they have come a long way to do so, as in this case with these women. However, just because someone has a message to share doesn't mean that he or she is equipped to rightly divide the Word of God. The ideas presented in our chapel were taught to these precious believers, but they had not been trained to see them for what they were.
During Eric's systematics class, he was able to give more detail about why the things our sister shared were wrong and the ethical consequences of those teachings. Students told of similar situations when they knew something being preached from a pulpit was contrary to Scripture. There was even some discussion about our colleague's action to interrupt the service. Eric was able to guide students into the truth that a loving shepherd sometimes must use his staff to whack a wolf in order to protect his sheep - even if that wolf comes in the guise of the words of a fellow believer.
Our colleague wielded the staff when he interrupted the service. The pastor wielded the staff when he sought out Eric before his church service and sent the ladies to speak with Eric the following day. Eric wielded the staff as he walked students through the minefield of the deception presented to see where such ideas lead.
Thankfully, these actions were done in a spirit of love. Though there was discomfort at times, the overall result was to underscore the need for people who are theologically trained to serve the church here and everywhere.
Attached is our November 2010 edition of our Croatia Update. In it, I tell about the many things that we have been doing in the last three weeks. It has been a whirlwind, but we expect things to settle down a bit now. We thank you for your faithful support of our ministry through the years, both financially and in prayer. We also ask for special prayers for Eric as he defends his dissertation on Nov. 30.
Blessings to you!
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Sun shines on Osijek, as new school year begins
By Nancy Titus
The sun is finally shining, and I have hung the wash outside for the first time in more than a week. It is one of those pleasant sunny, yet crisp, cool days that make fall such a wonderful time of year. I feel it even more so, as we have had many gray days of rain, mist, and fog, so the break in the weather mirrors the break in my schedule and offers a much-needed breather for the Titus household.
This column comes to you at the end of one of the busiest periods in our year here in Osijek as the Evangelical Theological Seminary opened another academic cycle. Our Welcome Week at the beginning of October was packed with activities and lectures to prepare our students for the academic life they will lead the next few years. While that may sound like a normal activity in an American college experience, it was the first time we have had such a thorough introduction for our students, four days of orientation to everything from dorm life and the city of Osijek to the rigors and expectations of theological study. Eric and I opened each day with a Reformed morning prayer service, another first in our time here for that type of worship encounter. He later demonstrated a theological response to a lecture, while I gave students an overview of how English fits into their work.
The weekend before this busy Welcome Week, Eric also had the opportunity to attend a conference on theological education in Timisoara, Romania. While there, he presented a paper, met theological counterparts from around the region, and was interviewed for a Christian radio station.
For my part, I administered the English Proficiency, a three-hour standardized exam, which measures students' English fluency. I spent many hours preparing and grading the exam and, together with two nationals who are also teaching English this year, deciding on the English class placement for all our undergraduate students.
Right on the heels of this grading frenzy, I was fortunate enough to attend the Balkan Women's Conference, an annual meeting of women missionaries serving in Croatia and Bosnia. This was my second time to attend this event, held on the beautiful coast of Croatia. Fellow RCA missionary Carolyn Otterness, serving in Budapest, Hungary, was also able to attend with me, which made the conference even better. We were pampered by women from the States who came to minister to us, and we were refreshed by connecting with women doing ministry across the region. I also came back with important information to help both in our homeschool and our family medical care.
Eric and I also have begun our regular teaching schedule, with each of us teaching both required courses and electives.
This semester, Eric is teaching Systematic Theology II, which focuses on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the church; an elective entitled, Karl Barth in Context; and Advanced Systematic Theology-Integrated Eschatology, a course for graduate students.
I am teaching English Composition I, which may be the first writing course students have ever had, as well as an elective English reading seminar in which we are reading the book, Bruchko by Bruce Olson, a missionary to a tribal people in Colombia and Venezuela.
In addition, we have a college friend visiting with us to get exposure to another culture. Jamie Ayers is a student at Indiana University and has been tremendous help in both projects for us at the seminary and in the running of our household. She loves to cook, so her help in the kitchen has been a great blessing, especially as we have been extra busy lately.
We ask that you please remember to pray for Eric on Nov. 30 as he defends his doctoral dissertation in Prague, the last step in the process of earning this important degree.
Attached is the October edition of our monthly column. In it, I tell about Penny's former teacher who returned to teaching this year after a fall from a cherry tree left her unable to walk. We are excited that she is teaching again. God is good! I also have attached the newspaper article that tells about her return to the classroom. Though the article is in Croatian, you can still see a picture of Dobrila and get a glimpse into the classroom that Penny once attended.
(Click HERE to view the newspaper article)
A little translation for you: The name of the paper is Morning Page. The lines above the photo read: Heroine in front of the chalkboard
'Dear children, a year ago I was very unhappy, I fell from a cherry tree and my legs still hurt . . . '
The last lines were what she told the children on the first day she met with them during a special presentation before the first day of school for the incoming first graders. The quote continues further down in the article:
"But I so love children and so love working with children. Therefore, I turned to the school and the mayor to give me help. And here I am now with you."
Part of the help she received from the mayor's office was a classroom assistant. As you can imagine, reading this newspaper article with my tutor was one of my best Croatian lessons ever!
Thank you for your support of us and for praying for our needs, such as Dobrila when she had her accident. Isn't it wonderful when you have such an answer to prayer! Thank God! And may He bless you for your continued support of our ministry here.
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Injured teacher back at work with new children
By Nancy Titus
Good news! Penny's teacher at the local Croatian school is finally back at work after a fall from a cherry tree in May 2009 broke her back and left her unable to walk.
In September, Dobrila Maricic became what is believed to be the only teacher in a wheelchair in Croatia. Her return to the classroom was chronicled in a daily newspaper from Zagreb, the country's capital. (I have emailed a copy of the article to your church if you want to see her picture in the classroom Penny once attended. Of course, the article itself is written in Croatian!)
We are excited about this event for a number of reasons. First, it is an answer to prayer, as many of you who have joined us in praying for her know. Next, of course, we are glad that Dobrila is recovered enough to be able to go back to work. That is good for her personally, as teaching is something she loves. But even more, we are thrilled for Osijek and Croatia to have such a gifted teacher back in the classroom where she can continue to have a huge impact on the future of the country.
In this war-torn land of men with missing limbs, it was not always certain that she would be able to return to teaching, regardless of her recovery. Most people I asked here assumed that a person with such a disability would never be able to teach, and they pointed to the requirement for leading gym classes which is part of the job for teachers of the first-fourth grades. (Here teachers stay with the same class of students for the first four years.)
Dobrila was determined, however. She explained to the newspaper her feelings about the effect of her injury. She didn't want to be someone who would only be pitied by others, but instead she wanted to be an example that physical barriers did not mean the end of her life or her career. She wants to use her most seasoned years as a teacher to show that just because a person is in a wheelchair doesn't mean that person is not useful to children to society to her family or even to herself.
When we first enrolled our children in the local school, Penny was in the first grade (she's now in fifth). One of the first parents I met was the manager of the local school bookstore, where we had to buy the children's textbooks. This woman also had a child entering the same school, and her comment to me when I told her who Penny's teacher was continues to ring in my ears: "Ah, the legend!"
Our experience with Dobrila reinforces why others think of her as an extraordinary teacher and a shining model for post-communist education. A woman who never had children of her own, she has for 25 years poured her life into the children in her classroom. She loves them, and lets them know it, something that stands out in a culture where nurturing is often brusque. She is the very definition of a good teacher: particular but kind, open and inviting, warm and compassionate. When faced with Penny and another American child with little Croatian language ability (and her with little English ability), she gave them time and space to learn the language and culture as well as the specifics the other children were learning. When Penny encountered difficulties, Dobrila was accommodating and went the extra mile to help the little outsider feel at home.
Even her injury itself was sustained while she was going beyond the call of duty. She had invited the children out to her orchard for a day of fun on her own time when the tragedy occurred.
When we heard the news that she was teaching again, we were thrilled for all these reasons, as were her class of first graders and their parents! Glory be to God!
On another note, Eric's doctoral dissertation defense has finally been scheduled. Unfortunately, it was not in September as we had hoped but was set for Nov. 30. Please keep that date in prayer as he prepares for this last step in earning this important degree.
Attached is the September issue of our monthly column, Croatia Update. In it we announce that Eric has been named head of the doctoral program at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, where we work. He also will be traveling to Prague in September to defend his dissertation. For those of you really interested, the title of the dissertation is: The Myth of the Analogia Entis: Karl Barth's Doctrine of Secular Misery in Weimar Context. Please keep him in your prayers for this important component of his degree, which is understandably nerve-wracking, as I stated in the column. We don't yet have an exact date for the defense but expect it to be in September before the beginning of the new school year around Sept. 20.
Also, our seminary doesn't begin classes until Oct. 4, but September is an important time when the faculty get together and finalize plans for the year. Please pray for us as we get our homeschool underway and begin the work of the seminary year. And thank you always for your constant support -- both in prayers and financially. We are proud to be part of your ministry here in Croatia!
RCA Missionary in Croatia
New school year offers new degree of service
By Nancy Titus
Even before the ink dries on Eric's doctorate in theology degree, he has been named head of the doctoral program at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, where we work. He fills a vacancy left after the departure of an American missionary in May followed by the sudden death in June of the resident professor named to replace him.
The timing of this appointment indicates just how important Eric's degree progress has been to the seminary, where last year three professors were working on doctorates and another just left Croatia for a three-year residency in the States to complete his.
Eric expects to finalize his degree from Charles University in Prague later this month. He will defend his dissertation, completed in June, before an audience of opponents, who will question him on its content. We appreciate your prayers as he prepares for this important and nerve-wracking event.
Eric has been working intensively on the degree since we arrived in Croatia in 2006, doing a six-year part-time program in just four years, saving thousands of dollars.
The degree required Eric to travel to Prague two or three times a year and pass comprehensive exams in four major areas of theology: Old Testament/Hebrew, New Testament/Greek, German, and church history. For the past year, he has been researching and writing his dissertation, a 330-page work on the influence of the context of pre-Nazi Germany on Karl Barth's rejection of the analogia entis, or analogy of being.
"Simply stated, the analogy of being is an attempt to equate culture, narrative, or instance of being on the human side with that of God, creating a blurring of the distinction between God and humanity," he said.
"I see that much of the theological thinking of Barth's time is having a resurgence in our contemporary approaches to theology."
ETF's doctoral program, still under development, is important to the future of the school as it focuses more and more on offering advanced degrees.
While there are many undergraduate and Bible school programs in the region, there are very few that can offer quality graduate and post graduate studies in Protestant theology.
This year, Eric will work primarily to get accreditation and to construct a doctorate of ministry component for the program.
September also brings a new school year for our children and with it a new way of doing school. Many of you have joined us in prayer to find a school option more appropriate for our son, Samuel. We believe we have found an answer to those prayers in a U.S. high school diploma program that offers a classical education from a Reformed perspective.
Samuel, who is in tenth grade, will attend virtual on-line classes in which he can listen to the teacher, view visuals, ask and answer questions and interact with other students in the same class. Classes are twice a week for 90 minutes each and convene at a particular time of day. He will log on to the classroom and participate fully along with other students logging on from across the US and possibly other countries.
He will take three such classes, and Valerie, who is in seventh grade, will take one. They, along with fifth-grade Penny, are also enrolled in independent self-paced on-line classes from another source that offer feedback from teachers but can be done at their convenience.
We are thrilled to have found a combination of schooling options, including home courses which they all will have, that meets the particular needs of each of our children in a cost-effective manner. I am excited for the breadth of opportunity these provide and ask your continued prayer as we enter this new school year both at home and at the seminary - for the glory of God.
Attached is the July edition of our Croatia Update. In it, I share the sad news that one of our colleagues
died suddenly last week. This is a shock and a terrible blow for the efforts to position the seminary for the
future. Your prayers are especially needed for us now.
Also, I didn't mention it in the newsletter, but Eric is in the US attending the meeting of what was the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, now the World Communion of Reformed Churches. He is the delegate for the Reformed Christian Church in Croatia, ironically in the RCA hometown of Grand Rapids. The meeting goes for another week, and then he will drive from Michigan to Oklahoma, where he will leave our van at my sister's. Then he will fly to San Antonio to visit with his parents for about a week before returning to us on July 9. We'd appreciate it if you'd keep him and his travels in your prayers as well.
And I am happy to report that he did, in fact, turn in his dissertation on time! We expect his defense to be in September though we don't yet have an exact date. He did a terrific job -- all 92,000 words and 271 pages of it! I am quite proud. Thank you for your prayers for us. It was a stressful time around here as he put the finishing touches on it, and we know it was your prayers that got us through it.
As always, we are grateful for your care and concern for us and for your support, both financially and in prayer. We also pray for you and thank God for you frequently.
Together with you in service to Croatia,
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Seminary reels after professor's sudden death
By Nancy Titus
The Evangelical Theological Seminary community is reeling from the shocking blow of the death of a resident New Testament professor just days before graduation.
Prof. Davor Peterlin, who also headed the Research and Publishing Department, died June 14 of an apparent heart attack.
His death stunned all of us. When the news came, many people thought it referred to his father rather than our 51-year-old professor. Davor had no history of heart problems. He had simply called his wife at work to say that he wasn't feeling well and was having trouble breathing. She thought it was related to the heat as it had been extremely hot and humid, so she urged him to stay home and rest and drink some water. She checked back with him a little later, and his speech was slurred. She immediately called for an ambulance, which came promptly, but he was dead before the ambulance reached the hospital.
In addition to the personal loss of Davor as a friend and colleague, the seminary community keenly feels the empty place he leaves. As a native Croat, he was an important part of the seminary's plans for building stability for the future. His efforts in getting Croatian government money for the seminary was one of the high points of the year-end report to faculty at a meeting just a week before he died. Those efforts were significant in helping move the seminary into the black from a deficit financial position the year before.
At that faculty meeting, it was also announced that he would head the doctoral department, following the recent departure of an American missionary. This was in addition to other projects he was to lead in the coming year.
One of the issues the seminary has always faced is its dependence on both money and personnel from overseas. The recent global financial crisis has put new life into efforts to diversify the funding of the institution. Its shaky financial position has made it difficult to provide salaries for the indigenous academics needed for the long term. Davor was an answer to prayer for both of those problems.
His death is a stark reminder of how fragile life is and how limited our view of God's plan is. Davor, who had just gotten married one week before, was making lots of plans, both personally and for the seminary. We were all excited for him and for the future ministry of the seminary.
We are thankful that nothing takes God by surprise, but we stagger under the weight of such loss and naturally we question what God is doing. I watch the members of our community around me and listen as they voice their pain and frustration. This is understandable in any context, but it is multiplied here where so much history weighs upon the hearts of people who have had to endure the dehumanizing effects of communism and the inhumane realities of ethnic war. A fatalistic outlook on life has taken hold of many that I know here - even in the church. People don't really believe they can make a difference.
The truth is maybe they can't. That's something that is hard going down for a basically optimistic American like me. Being in this context and being confronted with the blows our partners have faced this year, including a legal decision that reversed the status of a Reformed church property, has taught me something about what it feels like to be powerless.
However, the greater truth is that where humans are powerless, our God is powerful. Nothing can stop His plans, and we know that His plans include the coming of His kingdom and His will right here in Croatia as in the rest of His created order.
And so at this moment of grief, when deep discouragement is a very real enemy, I pray, and ask you to join me, that God will build up this seminary for the glory of His name here in Croatia and across this region.
Attached is our June edition of the Croatia Update. It seems nothing can trump the news of dissertation work at a time when we are just a couple of weeks away from the bid deadline for Eric. So, that is naturally the only thing I could write about. Thanks for your prayers for him and for the rest of the family as we try to support him in this big project.
After the dissertation deadline, Eric will be in the US for about a month, attending the meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, where he will be the Croatian delegate. Then he will take some time to visit family before heading back to us in Croatia.
Thanks again for all your support: financial and prayer. We are grateful to be partners with you in this ministry here in Croatia.
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Tunnel light in sight as school year nears end
By Nancy Titus
The big push is on. Everywhere I look these days, talk around the seminary turns to the number of pages being written or the books yet to be read before the semester ends in mid-June. Students are flummoxed and a bit bleary-eyed as one big deadline after another rolls around relentlessly.
It is always so near the end of the school year, and professors like myself are not immune to the building pressure. We work to fit in all the material not yet covered in the number of class hours left while also preparing final exams and trying not to break students in the process.
This pattern fits for students and teachers everywhere. It is as much a part of the ebb and flow of school life as September and its vibrant newness is. I love September when you get the chance to start again. But late spring is tough. It is hard work and sleepless nights and requires boring ole discipline to finish what was started with such enthusiasm only months ago. Beautiful weather that puts joy into the steps also comes like a siren to beckon the wayward student to dashing himself against the rocks of procrastination. Then too late, he realizes there isn't enough time left to finish the task before him. I've seen it over and over again and have had the unfortunate task of telling students they have not earned enough English credits.
It has been so every May that we have been in Croatia, but this year the pressure is particularly acute as the stakes are higher for our family. Eric, who has been a student himself these four years, is facing the big deadline. This time, he is not just writing a 30-page paper for an area of concentration as has been the case in years past, but is finishing his dissertation, a paper that will be 250-plus pages and cover the material that he has spent months, even years, researching.
By the time many of you read this, he will have already sent it off to his doctoral mentor, and he will be turning his attention to the next big thing on his agenda: a conference for the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, where he will serve as the representative for the Reformed Christian Church in Croatia.
I guess you could call the conference details the light at the end of his dissertation writing tunnel. However, from the vantage point of the writing of this column, it is something we can scarcely think about now, with still two weeks to go in May. Except, of course, we have to think about it as airline tickets must be purchased, another deadline letting us know time is marching on - whether our agenda gets done or not.
So, as I feel the pressure for myself, my students, and even more for Eric, I realize anew that school days are life in concentrated form. Yes, thankfully, all of life is not filled with literal exams and research papers, but exams of all sorts we will continue to have as long as we live. We will have times of intensity when the storms of life threaten to beat us down. We will feel the sting of the wind and have reason to question if we can keep going.
Life with God is about just that: continuing to go, walking with Him, in the midst of such stormy periods. No matter where we are we can look up and rejoice in the beauty He has given us, and when the going gets rough we can cling to the strength of His hand. And we can look around and appreciate the people He has put on the path with us and the very real shelter that is the church.
We thank you, our partners, for your prayers for us through this period of intensity. We thank you for praying for Eric as he writes his dissertation and continued prayer during the preparation of his defense, which will be in September.
We thank you for your prayers for the Evangelical Theological Seminary, especially during this special time of fasting as we as a community seek God for what He wants to do through us for the glory of His name in this region.
Attached is our April column, in which I tell about a women's conference I attended last weekend in Bosnia. It was great to get away with these women -- though much of the experience was a language lesson for me! (The conference speakers were Australian, so I had no trouble understanding them, and most of the Croatian speakers had English interpretation. It was just the in-between times when I was surrounded by Croatian that was difficult. But I am happy to say that I understand more and more all the time though I still struggle to speak.)
Also, we would ask for your prayers as Eric and I travel to Prague tomorrow for his last comprehensive exam. He also will meet with his mentor to discuss the progress on his doctoral dissertation, which he hopes to hand in by June. We will be gone four days and will leave the children with some fellow American missionaries. Please pray for safety in our drive -- it's about nine hours each way -- and for comfort and help for the children, being without us.
Thank you again for all you do to help us in what God has called us to do here in Croatia. We are grateful for your faithful financial and prayer support and your many expressions of care.
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Women soak up God's love, learn faith at retreat
By Nancy Titus
Women ministering to women. I was reminded again what a powerful concept that is as I attended a women�s conference in Sarajevo last month. This conference was aptly named, "Daughters of the King", as one thing organizers strive to instill in the women of this very male-dominated culture is how precious they are in the sight of God. Many women here, perhaps most, have heavy burdens of family and household responsibilities heaped on them in such as way as nearly to break the spirit.
Whatever continent you are on and regardless of your gender, stresses of family, health, and finances eat at us all. That's one reason I�m a big fan of spiritual retreats which allow you to get away from the normal routine and take a different look at your life and perhaps pause long enough to hear what the Lord might be saying to you. A large part of the power is in relating differently with your friends and neighbors in a neutral setting. Most, though not all, of those I have personally participated in are for women. And when women get alone with each other for the purpose of sharing time in the Lord, a lot can happen for the Kingdom.
I think it is all the more important in a place where women are often demeaned by men and a culture that sees no need for the softer side of life. Rampant pornography is one symptom of this disease, which infects with the twisted idea that women are possessions for men to use or misuse as they please. In that context, women getting away to let the truth of God's great love for them (and their husbands) soak in is a great blessing indeed.
This was the fourth Daughters of the King conference, organized by Grethe Stanley, an Australian missionary who has lived in Croatia and Bosnia. Besides the teaching component of the retreat, she also demonstrated several wise principles in how she has organized the conferences. First, she stressed her desire that the conference pay its own way.
The importance of this element can be easily overlooked. People from the West are happy to give to such an event, but Grethe wants to empower the women of the Balkans by letting them know they can do this themselves through faith in God. One way she moved closer to the goal this year was that various regional women's groups supplied items for the sale table to help raise money for conference expenses and to fund scholarships for women unable to pay the 55 euro ($82.50) fee for food and lodging for three nights.
Also last year, Grethe had encouraged the women to give to a mission of one of the speakers, who was headed to Africa. The money collected bought two sewing machines, tables and food for a year for a school. This year, the more than 450 women present got to see pictures of that money in use and the looks on faces around me as they watched this video and understood the real difference their contribution had made in the lives of an entire village was beautiful to see.
Missions giving is important for every believer, but often when the congregation is itself a mission the people can begin to think of themselves only as receivers and not as givers too. We have seen the attitude over and over that because people here are poor Americans or other Westerners must pay for everything.
It is deadly to the vitality of the church because the truth is that real change in the region will not come by outsiders. We can come along and help, but it will be indigenous believers daring to counter ungodly elements of their own societies who will ultimately win their countries for Christ. Developing the faith to stand against such pressures is a big job, and learning to trust God for finances and other practical aspects for a much-needed conference is a good place to start.
Attached is our March column. In it, we describe to you one of our great friends in ministry here, a fellow American named Paul who has been such a help to us. What is not mentioned in the column is our on-going legal battle over the Osijek church property, which had a major setback earlier this month. (In a nutshell, a rogue pastor changed the deed on the property, which was purchased with PC USA funds. The courts just reversed a decision that stated it rightly belonged to the RCCC. Yet another appeal is pending.) Paul is on the front lines of that battle, and therefore is in need of special prayer. We have chosen not to describe the legal issue in the newsletter, but do ask for your prayers for it just the same. Also, we learned today that Paul's beloved dog, Weiner died.
Thank you for your ongoing support and prayer coverage for our ministry here in Croatia. We also thank you in advance for praying for Paul.
Nancy Titus, RCA Missionary in Croatia
Fellow American missionary keeps us going
By Rev. Eric Titus
He has been our wheels, our voice, our cultural reference. Without him, we would have jumped in the deep end of missionary life in Croatia without a wall to swim over to and get our bearings, not to mention our breath. His name is Paul Dragowski, a fellow Michigander (from Kalamazoo to my Lansing), and a good friend who keeps us going.
Paul has been one of the answers to prayers in our work here in Osijek. In addition to being a missionary himself, he is a member of the Reformed Christian Church in Croatia and so is a direct partner with us as he reaches out to the youth of our city.
With a wealth of experience across Croatia and near-native command of the language, Paul helps us negotiate the many and assorted challenges that arise when living in another culture.
He began this ministry to us even before we arrived, helping us with visa documents, an official translator who charged reasonable rates, and insights into what we could expect. Early on, he helped us buy cell phones and took my wife shopping every week for nearly two years before we got a car. He also has driven us (quite happily I might add) to the airport numerous times. This is especially kind since Budapest is a four-hour trip each way. He drove us everywhere and translated for us as we shopped for a car and then walked with me through the two-day process of registering it the first time and the two-day processing of renewing it the next year.
Paul dropped everything to go with me to buy a refrigerator when ours died last summer and again in January when we bought a washing machine, which he installed for us. He has been my translator for sermons and has driven me to Prague when I needed to go for my doctoral work.
Paul came to Croatia in 1988 and worked in Rijeka, on the coast. He moved to war-torn Vukovar at the border with Serbia when it was still basically a city of rubble. He moved to Osijek to help the Reformed Church reach out to youth, and he lives in the Osijek church property where he conducts a drop-in ministry that sees dozens of youth per week.
His is a ministry of relationship, built one at a time with more than 200 young people in Osijek. It is no exaggeration to say that whenever we go anywhere in Osijek with Paul, someone will stop him just to chat.
One reason he is so successful is his Croatian ability. Natives are surprised to learn he is an American who didn't start learning the language until his mid-thirties. He goes wherever the youth are, and his Croatian allows him to interact naturally as he strikes up conversations that invariably lead to questions of faith.
Another reason is his interest in the things that interest youth, which in turn he uses as tools of ministry, such as: weight-lifting, backpacking, swimming, and skateboarding, a new hobby he took up while we were in the States. With these, he builds friendships that naturally provide opportunities for ministry.
His heart of gold extends to the larger missionary community as well. Recently an American Pentecostal missionary who runs a different youth ministry in Osijek had problems with his car. He went to a repair shop and got an estimate for 18,000 kuna, about $3,600. Paul called his mechanic and found a garage in another town. The cost to our friend was 2,400 kuna, about $480. Without Paul's intervention, this missionary could not have found a way around this obvious price-gouging of an American!
Paul does all this freely and joyfully and never begrudgingly. He lives out the passage that tells us never to be weary in well-doing. That in a nutshell is Paul's ministry to us and others, Americans or Croatians. When you pray for us, please add Paul to your prayers, as he is a vital part of our ministry.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Dear Praying Friends:
We have a potentially devastating situation here in Osijek. We need your prayers. The missionary who lives at the Tvrdja property, the church site that has been embroiled in a seven-year-long crazy legal nightmare, has been getting taunts from the guy who lost the case. Yesterday that guy came around and said that the decision has been overturned by the supreme court and has posted similar statements on his website. Our lawyers have not received anything about this, and to Eric and me at least, even the fact that the supreme court was looking at the property dispute is a surprise. We thought it was all over with and that the property dispute went for our side, but the criminal charges of fraud were overturned on appeal (for the strange technicality that he didn't tell the land office he was committing a crime when he had them change the deed from the name of the Reformed Church in Croatia to his own ministry name).
We know from past experience that this guy has information from courts before our side does. So, we feel like we are waiting on a powder keg. If what he is saying is true, then even after all this time the church building may be given to him. We have had a deed clearly stating that the property is owned by the Reformed Church in Croatia, but I guess that will be nullified if the supreme court tells the land office to nullify it. Besides the financial blow of losing a key property in a key location, is the physical and emotional toll such a loss will have on the tiny and struggling Reformed Church here, on the aging bishop, and on the missionary who operates a important drop-in youth center out of the facility.
Whatever the situation, we need wisdom to navigate through these murky times with faith in God. Pray especially for Eric that the Holy Spirit would give him a special anointing for this situation, that he would stand strong for the Lord and speak the very words of God into this seemingly never-ending nightmare for the Reformed Church and that we all would find our true hope and refuge in our never-changing Lord.
Thank you for your prayers and concern for the people of Croatia. God's blessings be upon you!
RCA Missionary in Croatia
Osijek connections hold during home leave
By Nancy Titus
As the leaves begin to change and the weather cools, our hearts and minds are with our colleagues half a world away in Osijek as students begin arriving this week for the new school year at the Evangelical Theological Seminary.
While most U.S. students have already settled into a routine with a few weeks of class under their belts, our European counterparts are just gearing up for back-to-school, at least those at the college level.
We remain connected to the flurry of activity at our mission as we communicate with colleagues by email. They are busy attending to faculty meetings and last-minute details. This week, familiar faces will return early to take exams they did not complete last year, and new students will arrive. Many of the practical details will be decided, in typical Croatian fashion, as they arise.
While we are happy to be away from some of the pressure of these days, we are saddened too, to be missing out on welcoming students to a new academic year. There is always something so fresh and renewing about new beginnings and seeing old friends after several month's absence.
We will continue to play a role in the work of the seminary, supervising our departments from afar, but our biggest work, as this semester begins, is the work that our partners also do every day: pray. Knowing the details from the other side informs our prayers as we dedicate this seminary year, the students and faculty to the Lord, asking Him for grace, for learning, for growth in mind and spirit, in short, for all the work to glorify Him. We pray for the greater church in Croatia and the region beyond, that students of today will become the Christian leaders of tomorrow, working to transform their cultures for the glory of God.
As for us here in New York, we are so grateful to the Lord for all the many blessings He has given us. Our family has settled in to our Stateside home in Pultneyville: the children are happy in their schools and our family routine has leveled into something normal and pleasant. In addition, we are taking care of important issues, like getting medical exams and other things that are best done in the U.S.
We are thankful for a big answer to prayer regarding Eric's registration for his final year of his doctoral program at Charles University in Prague. He normally is required to be physically present for registration, but this year he was allowed to do it remotely, saving time and the expense of a trans-Atlantic flight. The normal September meetings he has with his doctoral mentor as well as his final comprehensive exam (in church history) were deferred until January. Not only does this save a lot of money during these tight financial times, but it also saves wear and tear on Eric, who already has a heavy travel schedule during this home assignment.
When he is not traveling, Eric is working on his dissertation. He has converted the dining room into Dissertation Central, where he can keep his research notes, books, and file cards in order as he spreads out and puts ideas together. (Don't worry, we eat at the kitchen table.) He has been doing research at home and will soon add regular visits to theological libraries in our area. He expects to have the main body of research done and some of the writing ready for his mentor when he sees him in January.
We are also gearing up for a speaking schedule that will have us at a different church almost every Sunday until our return to Croatia in early January. We have already visited three churches as well as several individual supporters, and look forward to the opportunity of meeting many supporters we know only from internet communications.
We ask you to pray for our travel schedule, that God will keep us healthy and safe and strengthen the children as one or the other of us is gone on a weekly basis.
German language needs lead to faith talks
by Rev. Eric Titus
As most of you are aware, I am nearing the end of the fourth month I have spent in Germany learning the language as part of the requirements for my doctoral degree, which I must be engaged in for the position I hold at the seminary in Osijek. I wanted to share with you some wonderfully unexpected things that have happened while I have been at the Goethe Language Institute, both for my two months in Bonn in 2007 and these two months now in Munich.
The Institute is broadly international, and I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. What has been wonderfully unexpected is that when I tell them that I teach Christian theology, I am immediately engaged in open friendly dialogue about what I believe, why I believe, what I teach, my understanding about other religions, etc. This happens not only in the classroom, but even more often when a few of the students get together for coffee or lunch.
I have spoken with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and no small portion of people who feel they are somehow Christian, but don't know why. There are also those that have been hurt by the Church and have left for one reason or another.
These conversations are possible I think for a couple of reasons. I am to them an "official" representative of my faith, and we are on neutral ground at the Institute. It may be for many the first time that they have had this sort of contact, as it is not the habit of most to walk into a house of worship of a different faith and start to ask questions of the clergy person there!
For those who are culturally Christian, it is an opportunity, again in a neutral environment, to say "Pssst, Eric, what do I believe?" without the risk of embarrassment or anxiety that might come from asking the local clergy (although I shouldn't find cause for anxiety or embarrassment here -but sometimes they do). For those that have suffered at the hands of a church, it is a chance to maybe get some resolution.
I might also add that in these conversations, we are leveled by language. Most of these discussions happen in German (really poor German!) and must be basic. Yet, in spite of this basic-ness, the content is substantial. It has really been an unexpected joy, and an extension of the ministry for which you have sent us here. I have also gained a good deal of knowledge, understanding, and good-will toward those I have had the good fortune to meet here. Without exception they have enriched my life by generously sharing a part of their lives with me.
While the time away from my family is difficult, I feel very fortunate and blessed beyond measure to have been at the Goethe Institute. It is really one of the finest language schools in the world. The serendipity of people and ministry was more than I could have hoped for.
You our friends, supporters, and family, have bestowed upon my family and me a good many blessings. We hold those blessings as sacred and know as well that you have entrusted us with a great deal. Knowing this we work to be faithful to our call and to you the community that set us aside for such a great work. May God bless you richly and abundantly for all that you give and do on behalf of Christ's Church.
We are planning our first home assignment later this year and would appreciate your prayers. We will be visiting some of your churches as well as working to raise needed additional support. While we would like to say that we will visit you all, it is just not physically possible given the number of contacts we must make.
We do ask you to pray for all the many details involved in this return to the U.S. The two greatest needs at this point are: a car to drive while we are Stateside and a volunteer to come and teach English here in Osijek for the fall 2009 semester while we are away. We trust God will supply all that we need to make this a reality. Again, thanks for your important part in it
"Threats of no heat lead to warm thoughts of you"
By Nancy Titus
As I write this Sunday afternoon, the subject of heat and cold is on my mind. I have been hearing of winter storms, with plenty of ice and heavy snowfall, from friends from New York to Montana. Here in Osijek, we had small bits of snow in December and this week ice. This morning I looked out the window to see a new layer of ice glistening on the trees, leaving a frigid decoration. We literally bought the last grains of salt for sale at the local supermarket a couple of days ago, as people have rushed to buy table salt to put on the sidewalks.
Amid this direct bombardment of cold winter, we have been wondering about whether or not we will have heat.
This is because of a heated dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the flow of gas through the Ukrainian pipeline, which is giving a new twist on the idea of a cold war for vast sections of Europe.
What happened was that Russia turned off the gas on Jan. 7. I learned of this the following day, on my first day back to the seminary office after Christmas and the day after Eric left for his two months of German language study in Munich. A colleague told me that Croatia had declared an emergency and that it was possible that we might lose natural gas. My first thought was, Eric left, and the country I am living in declared an emergency. Just great!
It did put me in high gear, so I scoured the house and found three small electric heaters and extra bedding in some storage items left by our Montana friends who had returned to the States just before Christmas. The kids and I discussed the implications. If we were to lose gas, we could still cook, but we would be without hot water. Our plan is to hold school in the dining room using the space heaters, and at night kids could bundle up where they are or move to the living room. We discussed how we would have to heat our water for baths. At any rate, if it happened, it would be a livable temporary situation. Others face much worse on a daily basis.
One of my students, who lives in Serbia, not far from Belgrade, said her family lost its heat on Orthodox Christmas Eve and didn't get it back until three days later. So far as I know, no interruptions have occurred in Croatia.
As it stands, we think it is all resolved (a new agre
ement was reached today), but we also understand that gas shipments to Croatia aren't exactly at the top of the list, if the heat between the two countries should rise again.
From what I can tell, the dispute is obviously about price but probably ultimately more about control. Financially troubled Russia, with the world's largest natural gas reserves, depends on the sale of gas to the Western European market, where it gets a much higher price than domestically or from former communist countries. Ukraine, with one of the world's largest networks of gas pipelines, also needs the shipment of gas to fuel its troubled economy. Tensions between the neighbors have been high, as Ukraine has staked its political future on the West and away from Russia. Some analysts suggest that Russia may be eying a take-over of the pipeline, which Ukraine considers one of its greatest national treasures.
In between is most of Europe looking at a cold winter and wondering about the reliability of both as energy suppliers. The European Union has tried to broker a deal with the two parties, and at least their monitors got the gas flowing again. Legal action is being considered, and even that is telling as Serbia may sue the Ukrainian company, while Croatia is considering suing the Russian one.
All this dizzying international posturing has left this mother cold, but it has forced me to do what I should anyway: be a little more thankful for the warmth that fills my home this winter. Some of it comes from gas-fueled heaters, but even more comes from caring partners who pray for us, pay for our gas, and generally just keep us going in the work here in Croatia. Thanks!
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