Bovec: A Memoir

You say it, “Bo-vets.” It’s this gorgeous Alpine village in northern Slovenia, just south of Austria and east of Italy.

I always think about camping in Slovenia this time of year. In fact, Joey and I tented in our backyard on Sunday night. It was just what I needed after a stressful week. My “fix.”photo 1photo-1We lived in Slovenia for an entire summer exactly 5 years ago as part of Joey’s MDiv requirements. He wasn’t actually required to spend a summer rafting, rock climbing, hiking, canyoning (WILD STUFF) and sipping espresso…but he was required to get some cross-cultural missions experience.

And that’s what we did. We collaborated with the American missionaries in Bovec to provide a children’s VBS and continue the effort of ministering to local outdoor athletes. DSC04476

We focused on building strong relationships with the locals (several of whom we still talk to today).

DSC04483We told them the story of how Jesus changed our lives. And that He could change theirs too. We prayed for the city of Bovec sitting atop Mt. Svinjak after a nearly vertical 8 hour hike.DSC03906

Buds

Buds

Joey, Josh, Katy and I yelled for “pizza!” a good portion of the way down the mountain, knees throbbing, and stomachs aching with hunger. Cracker-thin, cheesy pizza and dark chestnut espressos were our comforts that summer. They were warm and familiar. A hug from home.

Kava Z Mlekom

Kava Z Mlekom

We made such fantastic relationships with the locals in Bovec. The kind of relationships where, by the end of July, they knocked on the glass of their storefront windows as we passed on the sidewalk, invited us to play Bocce or go to a festival, and gave us a ride from town to our campsite near the river about two miles away. They waved across the streets and we waved back, knowing all their names. Joey even played on the winning team in a local sand volleyball tournament.DSC04535

Bovec

Bovec

This was the summer we walked at least five-ten miles/day. Uphill. In the rain. We rock climbed several times a week and hitch-hiked from southern to northern Slovenia, relying entirely on the kindness of foreign strangers for their hospitality. DSC04317One particularly exciting car ride was from Osp, a small rock climbing town, to Vrpolje. We were literally piled into a toy car much like this one…euro-renault-twingo-470-080

…four of us in the back seat and three up front. No seat belts. The men who offered their vehicle were loud, boisterous Spaniards; firemen on vacation together. I knew in those moments that I wouldn’t be able to explain what that car ride was like, but that I wanted to remember it forever. Only one guy spoke broken English, and somehow we managed to relay to him that we’d like to be dropped off in the next town.

Vrpolje was a beautiful valley town tiered with lush vineyards and grazing sheep. DSC03703

The ruins of an ancient castle sat high upon a rocky crag, overlooking the village below with weathered pride.

Hiked to the castle...and couldn't quite get the camera timer to cooperate! :)

Hiked to the castle…and couldn’t quite get the camera timer to cooperate! 🙂

For the next several nights we slept in the backyard campground of one of the most hospitable families I’ve ever met. They offered us homemade prosciutto and wine, allowed us to eat out of their garden, and maintained the cleanest, most sparkly bathrooms. DSC03694DSC03699

The Kobals

The Kobals

We rock climbed in the morning, fell asleep in our hammock mid-day and played cards in our tent at night. Dinner was a loaf of crusty golden bread, 75% dark chocolate and fresh cheese.DSC03714

This summer changed my life. I felt so adult. So self-sufficient.

I was pushed WAY outside my comfort zone into tiny, stinky bathrooms without a flusher on the toilet. Into dark homes like caves where I was offered strange foods. Into tiny European cars that veered dangerously along steep mountain roads. Stuck in a tent while rain pelted the nylon for days on end. Tepid showers once or twice a week. Challenging, dangerous climbing routes. Difficult spiritual questions without easy answers. No transportation. Fierce homesickness. Frustration and fatigue and flight delays.

I needed Jesus and I needed Joey and I needed the generosity of strangers–people I would never see again but who etched their memory on my heart. Memories I especially think about the first week of June.

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We know Jersey needs a run when she prances into our bedroom and steals a stray sock from Joey’s messy closet. Then she saunters past us until we notice her thievery and dodges underneath our bed, taunting us to come get it from her. Even when we’re tired, we’ll climb on the floor and play along. Jersey is good at making us laugh. She reminds us not to take life too seriously.photo-153

Finn loves to play too. His favorite games of late are peekaboo, crunches on our lap (he’s his momma’s boy), dropping toys off the edge of his high chair, and smacking his lips. I can’t wait for us to play puzzles and trains and Hungry Hungry Hippos!

I think playtime isn’t just for puppies or babies. Somewhere I’ve heard “marriages that play together (oh, and pray together), stay together.” Every now and then it’s healthy for Joey and I to go do something fun together…and staring at a movie screen without really interacting doesn’t count. We try to do something different; spontaneous. Like rock climbing or mountain biking or trying a new restaurant. And we’re already dreaming about our anniversary trip (in June) to Mexico. Today we went for a jog at Lake Hefner before Finn’s orthopedic appointment.photo-155

Finn's the only one I know who can have fun in a waiting room...after an hour and a half of waiting...

Finn’s the only one I know who can have fun in a waiting room…after an hour and a half of waiting…

In Slovenia (summer of 2008) we often found ourselves sitting in a tent in the pouring rain. We had exhausted every sudoku, crossword puzzle, played Slovene Uno and read the entire Narnia series. We were so bored that we spent hours making up a card game. Most nights before we fall asleep, we play Othello, bluetooth Nerts, scribble out a crossword puzzle, or most recently, we play Welder on the iPad.

Take it from a black lab named Jersey and go do something fun with the people you love.photo-152

Slovene Rain

Joey and I have Fridays off. Feels like we won the lottery. Yesterday morning Jersey woke us up with her ear flapping at 4:00am to play–she was the only one having fun. Then Finn followed at 6:00. Joey left around then to begin swim training at the Y with Dustin. They are attempting a triathlon slated for September. I’m jealous…my knee won’t let me run more than two miles these days. Gotta get that fixed.

We walked to Starbucks as usual and reflected that the weather was unmistakably “Slovene.” Cool and sunny but with storm clouds looming, threatening downpour. Many of you know we spent an entire summer in Slovenia to fulfill a requirement for Joey’s master’s degree. Our goal was to minister to local rock climbers, kayakers and campers through intentional relationship building. The Slovenes love the outdoors, and how could they not? It’s one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth, with turquoise rivers and imposing Alpine mountains. We met some of the most kind, hospitable people in Slovenia. They let us camp in their backyard among their sheep and eat out of their garden. They picked us up on the side of the road when our backs ached from the load of our climbing and camping gear. They offered us homemade Jagermeister after long hikes (didn’t exactly quench our thirst). They took us out for dinner and ordered us their favorite Slovene specialties, usually involving goat cheese. One couple even flew to the U.S. the following year to spend a week with us in Waco learning our culture.

It rained on our tent all but six nights that summer. We learned much about perseverance, overcoming fear, frigid canyon-jumping-kind-of-friendship (love you, Katy and Josh!), being a believing family in a foreign country (thank you, Kelleys) and selfless hospitality (thank you, Tijana, Vasja, Ana, the Kobals, Monika, Lisa, and many others). I’m always grateful for Slovene rain. It reminds me that sunshine will come, even after months of stormy weather.