today g.s.d. draws to a close...
gsd is the name of this get together of young croatian leaders. it translates as the daniel generation (hopefully none of them saw this cartoon!).
this is the eighth year it has run. the theme this year has been looking at issues of gospel and culture. the challenge the church is facing in many parts of the western world is present in croatia. one of the complexities in this part of the world is that church affiliation is strongly related to ethnicity. croatia is largely catholic. but, as in so many places, the church feels wedded to a bygone era, certainly in the eyes of younger people. the move out of communism, the building of the new croatia since the war and the wider postmodern shift all contribute to making this more than just a generational difference. it really is a new context or new world in which to work out what it means to follow christ.
i first came to croatia when the war was still being fought (over ten years ago - before i had moved to london) and helped run a youth camp with a friend who had moved over from england. a few years later i cam back with lowell sheppard, the then director of youth for christ in britain and we interviewed one of the people we had met on the camp, ruben, to be the first croatian director of youth for christ in croatia. since then youth for christ in croatia has taken on its own unique shape. ruben and his brother mihael, and irena are the team of three who now run youth for christ here, with irena now directing it. i don't know what the term youth for christ conjures up in your mind. in many parts of the world it's pretty conservative and programme oriented. but croatia definitely has a creative edge with a different feel. it's very exciting to see the journey these guys have been on as they have sought to imagine how to follow christ in croatia and encourage the church and young people.
several years back i met ruben, mihael and irena again at a european yfc conference in britain (when i was working with yfc) and led a few sessions with a friend richard bromley on mission and postmodern culture. it turns out that unknown to me, this had a pretty major impact on encouraging these guys to rethink what they were up to. g.s.d. has been one of the spaces where they (along with momir from step) have got others together to struggle to develop an authentic croatian discipleship. hopefully a relational network of creative leaders is quietly growing.
one of the challenges the church faces and has faced in many parts of the world is how to cope with foreign well meaning christians (this is even true in london with missionaries coming from africa and korea to convert london). this i think is especially true of post communist countries which all experienced a huge influx of enthusiastic christian organisations and missionaries ready to convert the communists and plant churches. but in so many places the cultural sensitivity has lacking. the challenge always is that the church in these countries is always keen to get the resources so is often too polite to tell the foreign influx to go home (which in many cases is what is needed) and sometimes outsiders can be looked up to as having some kind of expertise. croatia has had more than its fair share of this particular challenge. working for a mission organisation i am painfully aware of how good intentions aren't enough - the history of mission is mixed to say the least. yfc in croatia seems to have managed to navigate these troubled waters amazingly well. and g.s.d. hasn't had any outsiders at all giving input in its first seven years. this is wonderful and i think it needs to be encouraged as a model in many other places. the creativity of the croatians and the presence of the spirit with them has produced amazing things. one of the fascinating things is how they have developed their own unique blend of worship - p.k.t. (stands for approaching the throne in croatian). it's multi-sensory, using technology and the arts, creating spaces for people to explore spirituality, and has very little singing. a kind of croatian alternative worship. the guys here were telling me how they made up all this stuff in worship and then a few years later began to find blogs and web sites about alternative worship and had a conversation where they said - 'what we are doing has a name! and is happening elsewhere!'. since that time they have gleaned ideas to add to what they are doing from the wider conversation going on on the web. but it's great that here there is an authentic indigenous worship that's grown out of croatian soil.
when i was invited i was very hesitant to come. it seemed to me that i could easily be that culturally inappropriate but well intentioned outside person and i didn't want to create the impression that the emerging church in the uk or alternative worship has things sussed (because we don't and our context is inevitably so different). so we had long conversations on skype but i was eventually persuaded to come. i do feel a real kindred spirit with these guys - it's been great to build friendship. and there is huge value in sharing from different parts of the world if we can do so out of mutual relationships and not power games or any sense of feeling that we are the experts. i have done some sessions on mission and culture and worship etc. but i have tried to encourage that to be a spark to people here to do the imaginative work they need to for their own context. rather than offering models to copy from somewhere else. to be honest i don't know if i have succeeded.
there were some wonderfully creative ideas that the team had prepared for g.s.d.
opposite from the retreat house where we were in fuzine was no 17 - a run down derelict building. in a large upper room an installation had been set up with items from popular culture at one end and items from traditional church culture at the other. over the weekend people could go and re-arrange the installation as they wished.
four sessions of p.k.t (alt worship croatian style) were great. the first had the space covered with cardboard boxes and whilst music played we were invited to take a box and think what boxes we were in in our thinking and how we might break out of those boxes. the accompanying liturgy was good and in croatian obviously. if irena translates it at some point i'll add it here. the second used images of benches from a photographer in zagreb and invited people to think what spaces they could sit in god's presence. the third was a free for all creating prayers/psalms out of a whole range of materials. and today we finished off with a service by numbers which i helped design - taking the emmaus road story and giving people themes within it, they produced an envelope with instructions and activities and the worship was then an emmaus road by numbers round tables going through a series of envelopes (see communion by numbers). we'll be doing this for our next grace service though with different ideas/activities i am sure.
one of the metaphors i spoke on was improvisation and they had a fabulous young jazz band who came and did a concert talking about and demonstrating improvising.
a tradition at g.s.d. is that they have a mad game/treasure hunt following a series of clues. the lengths they had gone to for some of the rooms was quite something and they love their gadgets so there was lots of technological stuff involved. one clue involved searching for and watching 4 youtube videos they had made and uploaded. another involved rowing to the centre of the lake to find a ticket. another had someone blindfolded in a room which had a camera linked up to another room where instructions were given by the rest of the team over walkie talkie on what to do... i won't explain it all but creativity is definitely one of the things the team love.
this has turned into a rather long blog post. am headed of to rijeka to watch liverpool v chelsea tonight on tv at ruben's. then a day off tomorrow visiting the island cres. then heading to zagreb on thursday to take a couple of step student groups (only found this out today!) and heading back to england friday...