April 2022

This Spring we have watched the snowstorms back in Canada with some measure of alarm as Alberta and recently Manitoba have been hammered with late winter storms. Here in merry old England Spring came early in March and now in mid-April trees and flowers are in full bloom. We live beside the largest park in Horsham, with lovely gardens where Pam likes to sit and read when it is warm and sunny.

Yesterday, the local churches took advantage of a warm Spring day to meet in the city square for a Good Friday service. Congregants from several Horsham churches gathered to sing choruses, listen to God’s Word, and pray for the nation. It was a quiet and reverential affair, as befitted the occasion. Nothing brash or strident. There were no calls to repentance or appeals to the unsaved. Just a quiet witness to the community of our collective faith in Christ and His power to heal and restore.

We also like to get out into the surrounding countryside for walks in the fields that cover the gentle Sussex hills. Easter is the best time of year to see the wildflowers begin to bloom, so today a group of us from Teach Beyond gathered in the park beside our flat and drove a few miles out of town for a walk.

The day was sunny and bright, and the ground was dry underneath, though we were all dressed for the occasion with our sturdy boots. We had been warned that it was still a little early yet for some of the wildflowers, but since the day was warm and inviting and we had an abundance of time with the long weekend we were all ready for an outing and to our delight the flowers were blooming in abundance.

The air was warm and fresh with the fragrant smell of wildflowers. The bluebells and anemone were in abundance everywhere and we were careful to stick to the paths so as not to crush the delicate petals underfoot. We walked for over an hour, soaking in the beauty of the countryside, the sound of birdsong, and chatting happily over a picnic lunch.

We are finding that England is such a pleasant country in which to live. We are so enjoying our new life in this country with its pleasant walks and busy market squares. We know the Lord has brought us here to work for Him, and there are times we are indeed daunted by the enormity of the work He has placed in our hands. But along with that burden of responsibility, He has given to us much that is delightful, and uplifting to our spirits, and we are most grateful to serve Him here.

We have seen some famous sites in our travels – the Great Wall of China; the towering Inca settlement at Macchu Picchu; the mysterious ruins of Anchor Wat – but the city of Dubrovnik rivals these sites and is the only one still in daily use and good repair. An important seaport on the Dalmatian Coast overlooking the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik today is a tiny city of only about 45,000 people, only a fraction of whom still dwell within its walled fortress. In recognition of its outstanding medieval architecture and its impressive fortifications, Dubrovnik was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.

The city dates to the 7th Century under the Byzantine Empire and owed its prosperity and high level of development to access to maritime trade routes. The city was battered by a devastating earthquake in 1667, dominated by the Venetians in the late Middle Ages, occupied by the French Empire, and incorporated into the Kingdoms of Italy and Dalmatia as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1929 Dubrovnik became part of Yugoslavia and Croatia. In 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence, the city suffered significant damage requiring much restoration during the 1990s and 2000s. It is now one of the Mediterranean’s top tourist destinations and a popular filming location for many movies, including most recently Game of Thrones. And it is spectacular!

The city is completely enclosed by a wall which is from four to six meters wide, runs almost two kilometres and took us almost two hours to walk. There are only two gates into the city which is made up of multiple historic buildings such as the Sponza Palace which houses the National Archives, the Rector’s Palace which is now a museum, a Franciscan Church and Monastery housing a massive library and invaluable hand-written historical documents. Despite feeling a bit depleted by our experience with Covid, we spent an entire wonderful day exploring the wide avenues and tiny, steep side street that make up this amazing city.

We bought a day pass that included a bus ride from our hotel and entrance to the churches and museums that fill this ancient city. We were determined to see as much as we could but by the end of the day we were exhausted. Before we boarded the bus in the city square for the ride back to the hotel, we finished out the day dining European style on a lovely outdoor patio just outside the walls of the city.

We had thought that having spent most of the holiday in low-cost accommodation along the way, we would treat ourselves to a nice hotel just outside Dubrovnik. After much online searching we found this lovely place overlooking the coast with a balcony view of the water. The breakfast buffet was incredible, and the service was outstanding.

I suppose it didn’t hurt that we were among a handful of guests in the pre-season who tempted the virus by travelling. We had done our best to isolate ourselves throughout our journey – always travelling and eating by ourselves – and we always masked when we were close to others. Croatia was definitely worth the effort that it took us to get there. And put Dubrovnik on that bucket list!

In the thirty years before Diocletian came to power, there had been 15 Roman emperors, none lasting more than five years and some a mere five months. So, when Diocletian took control and reigned for over twenty years, he brought a measure of stability to the empire. However, it came at a cost as Diocletian was determined to rid his kingdom of all opposition, including those troublesome Christians. It is estimated that 5,000 Christians were put to death under the last and greatest persecution that took place under Diocletian, which did not stop until Constantine came to power in 324.

Diocletian was born in Croatia and rose to power through the ranks of the Roman army. During his last ten years as emperor, he commissioned a palace to be built in Split, the remains of which still stand to this day. It was a vast complex, housing his private residence, a temple to the gods, and courtyards and gardens all contained within the palace walls.

The caverns underneath the palace were hollowed out for storehouses and were recently used for some scenes from the Game of Thrones series. The portico of the palace ran along the seafront of Split, the finest port on the Dalmatian coast. The entire complex housed nearly 10,000 people in its day.

After the Roman Empire fell, Split became an important part of the Venetian trading empire and its wealth and importance grew. It is now the second largest city in Croatia, after the capital, Zagreb, and one of the most popular tourist destinations along the Dalmatian coast. Extensively damaged in World War 2 and the Balkan wars, it has been rebuilt and shows little evidence of past conflict.

We like to stay in local accommodation when we can, and this time we were fortunate to secure a flat overlooking the Riva, which used to be the portico of the palace. Now cafes and restaurants line the Riva, while boats – some large enough to qualify as the ill-gotten booty of Russian oligarchs – float serenely in the harbour. Our flat consisted of three enormous rooms in what was once likely a consular office, as the British Consulate had the flat immediately next door. The location allowed for leisurely walks around the nearby palace, as well as easy access to the cafes below and morning coffees on the balcony overlooking the sea.

We had wisely decided to stay two nights in Split, knowing that we would need to time to explore the area, and were very glad we did. Our lingering post-Covid illness meant that we were easily tired, though it did not keep me from climbing to the top of the tower in the palace grounds that overlooks the harbour. Being able to relax in a room that afforded such a lovely view of the port was the reward of some careful planning in the weeks and months before we traveled and we were grateful for the rest before our final destination in Dubrovnik.

Nikola Tesla was and still is a big deal in this part of the world. Tesla was born in Smiljan, Croatia which is less than 100 miles from the Krka Waterfalls, a fact that will figure in this post. We had read about the falls and thought it would be worth leaving the coastal highway for a bit to go and explore. Because it was off-season, there were few people and the little bus that takes you down the serpentine road into the canyon below was nearly empty.

The falls are nothing like Niagara. They are not massive and awe-inspiring. Instead, they are charming and delightful. Little pathways wind their way among the dozens of little cataracts that make up the system of falls that drain the Krka River to the Adriatic some 50 miles away. The eddies and inlets are graced with swans and ducks bobbing for the bugs that cling to the mosses that line the riverbeds, and the trees bend over the river forming archways of dappled light.

There area around the falls has been home to a settlement for many years. Nearby is a Franciscan monastery that dates from 1465 and the old watermills that were the heart of this settlement have been grinding flour from the early Middle Ages. However, it was not until Tesla began working on a design for the world’s first hydroelectric plant at Niagara for Westinghouse that local engineers began working on a similar plan – using Tesla’s design – for Krka. The powerplant at Krka went online two days after the plant at Niagara, making it the second oldest in the world. However, the nearby town of Sibenik was the first in the world to use this power to light up their city streets.

The settlement and the powerhouse at Krka have been well maintained by the Croatian authorities and the place was a delight to wander around. Apparently in the summer the falls are thick with bathers, but in early April, it was virtually deserted. It would have been an ideal place for a picnic had we thought ahead, but as it was, we had to make do with a most pleasant walk around the myriad terraced falls and a short bus ride back to our car. The historic town of Split was not far down the road and we were eager to see what many think is the prettiest town in Croatia.

Dalmatia was the name given to the area south of Trieste on the east side of the Adriatic during the time of the Roman Empire. The province was named after the Dalmatae people of the region and was the home province of Diocletian, an important Roman emperor of the fourth century. In the intervening centuries, the Balkans, of which Dalmatia is a large part, underwent several wars and name changes that have altered the boundaries and scarred the towns. But they have not damaged the beauty of the region, especially its spectacular coast.

We have been fortunate to have driven the Icefield Highway from Banff to Jaspar, and the road that hugs the Cape Breton coast in Nova Scotia. We have travelled from the Kyles of Bute past Loch Lomond in Scotland, and along the shore of Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand. This drive along the Dalmatian Coast rivals them all. If the pictures don’t do justice to reality, it is because the reality was just too vast to capture in pictures.

Because we were both sick, we decided to cut across the Istrian Peninsular, rather than hugging the coast to Pula on the first day out of Portoroz. This got us into Rijeka on the coast in time to find our little room, get a decent meal at a local pizzeria and retire early. The weather was cold and rainy and with our flu symptoms giving us the chills, we were happy to have a snug little room with a tidy kitchenette to make ourselves a warm cup of coffee before snuggling in for the night.

The following day we followed the E65 all the way down the Dalmatian coast to Zadar. The views were just stunning, and the road was in fabulous shape allowing us to make good time and get into Zadar by mid-afternoon. The Hotel Delfin, where we stayed, was right at the end of the bus route, so once we were settled, we caught the bus into town and walked across the footbridge into the old walled city of Zadar.

Like many of the cities of this region, Zadar has been fought over for centuries. Its port was much prized by the Venetians, and when the Turks of the Ottoman Empire seized control of the Balkans in the 16th century, Venice successfully defended the city to ensure the continuation of its trade in the Adriatic. Today, Zadar is the center of much of the commercial success of Croatia, and its reconstructed old town was charming and inviting.

We were entranced by the ‘sea organ’ on the western wall of the waterfront. Designed by Croatian Architect Nicola Basic, the acoustic  pipes concealed under steps leading to the ocean interact with the motion of the sea to produce haunting and eclectic melodies. A nearby ‘greeting to the sun’ installation by the same artist harvests solar energy during the day and produces a colourful light display at night. After another fabulous European meal, we caught the bus back to our hotel for a night’s rest before the run to Split in the morning.

Once the Far Beyond conference was underway (please see previous post), there wasn’t much time for sightseeing in the area, which was a shame, as there was plenty we could have done. But we did get a walk into nearby Piran along the Adriatic coast, enough to see the local jellyfish, which were huge, and the dolphins playing in the harbour. The central square in Piran was enormous and largely deserted, partly due to Covid, and partly due to the fact that late March is still pretty chilly in this part of the world.

Piran, like much of the Adriatic, was once part of the Venetian Empire and its architecture reflected those Italian distinctives. We enjoyed walking through the narrow alleyways of the little town exploring the little shops along the way, stopping when we were tired and taking lots of pictures of the sights.

Portoroz to the south was much larger and much more commercial, with several grand hotels and casinos and an extensive boardwalk with little cafes and restaurants nestled against the seafront. I had to make a couple of runs into Portoroz to secure the rental car that we had booked back in England.

Our rental turned out to be a Skoda Octavia with a number of features that we hadn’t come across before. There was navigation, cruise control, lane and brake assist and they all worked in sync. If you set the cruise to 80, and the car, reading your position from GPS determined that the corner would only bear 55, it would brake you to the appropriate speed and then resume your cruising speed on the other side of the corner.

It took a little getting used to – our 10 year old Ford Fiesta in England is the newest vehicle we have owned in several years – but the ride was very smooth. It was a good thing, as we had planned to drive the Dalmatian coast to Dubrovnik and back – some 1500 km – and we needed a safe and reliable vehicle. Octavia did not disappoint as future posts will show!

The idea of FarBeyond 2020 was born five years ago in the hearts and minds of the leaders of TeachBeyond who wanted to create an opportunity for members from around the world to meet together for a time of fellowship, learning and refreshment.  A venue was scouted out in Slovenia to accommodate the 850 people who expressed an interest in attending for March 2020. Everything was in place until just two weeks before the scheduled date, when COVID 19 turned the world upside down.

After several attempts to reschedule, it was finally decided to go ahead with the conference and it was rebranded as FarBeyond 2022, with only 350 people now feeling comfortable enough with travel to attend. The venue, the Grand Bernadin Hotel in Portoroz, Slovenia was spectacular. Built into the side of a cliff, it allowed for every room on the eleven floors to have a balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea. We arrived a day early to do some preparation for the conference, which gave us some time to explore the nearby town of Piran and watch the sun go down over the Adriatic.

The years of planning paid off as teams were together for the first time in years, friendships that had been cultivated on-line finally met face to face, we saw reports of many transformational ministries, celebrated successes and milestones, sang and worshipped together, learned, ate, played and met many new folks who will be key to our work in the years ahead. As was to be expected, we also shared our germs and many of us left with Omicron on board. Thankfully most everyone was fully vaccinated so the cases, although plentiful, were all relatively mild.

The leadership team put an incredible amount of work into keeping this vision alive through the pandemic and eventually seeing it through to fruition. Their work was deeply appreciated by all who were able to attend as well as some 750 others who were able to join the plenary sessions, which were live streamed. Typically, for this time even the keynote speaker was unable to travel from South America due to her own battle with Covid. It was a great success but I think everyone involved agreed that in future, regional conferences will become the norm.