Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Addendum: An Unexpected Trip

Since we moved to Croatia, many people have asked me what I miss most about the States. My response is #1: Family and friends, and #2: Baseball. 

Of course the former makes a lot of sense. The latter, on the other hand, in a culture where baseball is just in the movies, takes most off guard. 

Regardless, my most recent trips to the States represent these two reasons. Last year I went to western New York to celebrate my grandparents’ 70 years of marriage . This year, in fact, right now, I am arriving in Boston to enjoy the Cubs' first trip to the World Series in 71 years.

That may sound like a trivial reason to cross the Atlantic, but this is where I come back to reason #1. Having gained a love for the Cubs from my father and having shared it with my brother, it will be a joy to watch several games with them. I'll also be able to visit close friends in Chicago, whom I haven’t seen in three years, and whose children I’ve never met. I will be able to have my cake and eat it too. 

This of course would not be possible if it weren’t for a generous gift in the form of a plane ticket from Croatia to Boston and a loving wife who initiated the trip.

I deserve this gift right? My loyalty to the Cubs has been strong since watching them lose to the Giants in the 1989 NLCS. I’ve suffered through 0-14 in 1997, Alex Gonzalez’s error in ’03 and consecutive Wild Card sweeps in ’07 and ’08. I wore my Cubs gear to middle school in a time and place where it made me a loser - if not a lovable one. 

But no, I don’t deserve it. We’re committed to a life on the other side of the ocean. We have responsibilities in Zagreb, and by the way, my love for the Cubs has done nothing to actually make them as good as they are. No, there’s really no merit for me going to the States to enjoy watching them in the World Series. 

This gift, from those who paid for it and enabled me to go, was free and initiated out of genuine love. Yes, as I fly over the Atlantic I am reminded of God’s free gift of grace which is immeasurably more valuable. And I am thankful. 

Go Cubs!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

It's Time to Go

As I mentioned earlier in the week it's time to wrap up this blog. And although I don't have much more to say, I do want to conclude fittingly.

The theme of this blog has been culture shock. Originally I started it primarily as a way to process the move from America to Croatia. But it also had a faith-based component from the beginning.

In the end, the transition from one culture to another, and in a way living in two cultures at the same time, has a lot of relevance to our situation in this world as christians. As I made reference to a few days ago, we're waiting to go to our true home.

C.S. Lewis says it well: "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

But while we wait, we're already living and working in the new kingdom. This tension is both difficult and exciting. It's hard sometimes because we see the imperfection all around us. It's exciting because we have a chance to do something about it. Our task is not simply to sit by while we wait for paradise. Rather, we work towards bringing the kingdom while living in hope knowing there are far better days ahead of us.

This move is a continuation of our work in the kingdom here in Croatia. Honestly, although we have a plan and a general idea of what our task will be and what life will be like, there's a certain uncertainty about how things will turn out. This is that tension.

So we go forward in faith believing that the One who determines our steps will provide as He has always done. The Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever.

The Bohalls, August 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Bohall Kids Talk About Moving

What goes through a child's mind when they find out they're moving?

Since we decided to move to Zagreb, I've heard that moving is one of the most traumatic things a child can go through. This NY Times article says that the effects can be felt even into adulthood. Looking back at my own experience, I remember not being happy about moving. However, doing so as a child and teenager is what helped me adapt fairly easily to life in Croatia.

Another thing the linked article talks about is the difference moving has on introverts vs. extroverts. Predictably, it's more difficult on the former than the latter. From my own perspective as an introvert, moving wasn't pleasant, but it brought about more personality flexibility. I am now more extroverted than I used to be.

One of the positive things about moving to Zagreb (vs. somewhere outside Croatia) is that we have friends and family there. Our children have acquaintances and we already have a local church we're ready to call home. This, combined with the fact that our children are still relatively young, gives us hope that the move won't be too traumatic.

In talking to our oldest son, Enoh, about the move, he's the one who is least happy. I decided to ask each of the kids a few questions about the move to see what they're thinking about. In watching the interviews, I don't see anything too profound. But if nothing else, this should be interesting for us, and them, to watch in the future as we look back at the unknown of moving.

Take a look if you're interested.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Be Ready!

The fifteen of us were in Poland surrounded by wooden structures of various shapes and sizes. We had traveled 12 hours from Croatia to live in tents for a week. In my calculation we formed the smallest campsite of all the villages that totaled 7,200 campers. We were at Royal Ranger (RR) Eurocamp 2016.

This was the second RR camp I had attended in two years, but by far the biggest camp I had ever been to. The hosts had prepared for nearly four years and it showed. The infrastructure and organization could not have been better. In attending the leaders meetings every morning at camp I saw that there were some minor challenges here and there, but overall it was obvious they were ready when we came.

On the second day of camp I was asked to share a message during the village devotional time. In similar situations in the past I'd have said no. I only had two days to prepare. The theme wasn't one I had spent much time studying. But the answer fell out of my mouth before I really processed those details. "Yes, I'd be happy to!"

When it was time to speak, I realized that the group of 300 campers was the biggest group I had ever spoken to.

Our motto as Royal Rangers is "Be Ready" It's something I've been trying to teach others. Maybe I had finally learned myself. The state of being ready is completely dependent on the amount of preparation one does ahead of time. In organizing the trip for our 15 campers I had prepared the logistics ahead of time. Therefore we were ready when the day came to travel. The Eurocamp team was ready for us because they had prepared well ahead of time.

I believe the main reason I was ready to speak during our morning devotional time was because I've been spending this year consistently reading and studying Scripture more than any other time in my life. The Bible Project has helped with an incredible reading plan and intro videos that have helped me be immersed in God's Word. It was this constant discipline of devotional time that allowed me to be ready.

And I believe this is how we as ministry workers...no we as Christians, can best prepare for any event. In the New Testament we are constantly encouraged to be ready; "Be prepared to give an answer" (I Pet 3:15), "Be alert at all times" (Luke 21:36). Paul encourages us to put on the full armor of God which includes the sword of the Spirit. Being ready and studying the Word are strongly connected. That's what I experienced when I was out of my comfort zone of preparing a message without much time of preparation.

The camp was a huge success because of the preparation of the organizers. Our experience there and our trip there and back were smooth because of our preparedness and God's hand of grace upon us. We grew in our relationship with the Lord and with one another. All in all it was a tremendous experience for the 15 of us from Croatia. But if there's anything I would like to pass on to the younger Rangers it's this: Read, study and memorize Scripture so that you are always ready to serve the Lord in whatever capacity you are asked to.

The video below offers a taste of Royal Ranger Eurocamp 2016.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Where is home?

Petra and I lived in Orahovica for 9 years - longer than I've lived in any one place in my life. Without a doubt I considered Orahovica home. The house we lived in, our four kids who learned to eat and walk there and the daily routine all contributed to us calling it home.

So how will it be possible to call Zagreb home now?

For Enoh, our eight year old, home was most about his teacher and his classmates/friends. Here in Croatia you have the same teacher from first to fourth grade. Of our four children, this move is hardest on Enoh because of the relationships he has in Orahovica.

That's what I remember most about our moves when I was a kid/teenager. Sure, I missed the cornfields and apple trees I grew up playing around in Iowa and the field I spend hours playing home-run derby in in Wisconsin. But it was the friendships I missed most.

It's the friendships that created the greatest pull back to Croatia for my wife. Upon moving to Croatia 10 years ago, we calculated that Petra had spent exactly the same amount of her life in America as she had in Croatia. The thing is, she felt more at home in Croatia. In a relationship based culture (as opposed to the schedule oriented culture in America) this makes sense.  It can be difficult for a foreigner to find a way "in" to this sort of culture. But once one is in, leaving can be a difficult thing.

And so the web of relationships keeps us in Croatia despite an attractive option of working together with friends in the States. Simply put, Croatia is home.

In a recent conversation Petra told me the table most represents home home for her. And that makes a lot of sense. So many friendships were begun, renewed and strengthened around our dining room table. Of all the material things we moved, the table was first priority.

Of course, a material building and physical space can become both real and symbolic expressions of home. But without family and friends they become virtually meaningless. We were created as relational beings. And as God's creatures we look forward to the day when our fellowship will be perfect. We long to go home.

Until then we imitate what we look forward to in the imperfect world of moving and goodbyes. But even the imitation is enjoyable when we share it with others. Yes, our table is coming with us to Zagreb in expectation that it will see many more relationships enjoyed around it. Zagreb will soon feel like home to us. And the table will be one of the main reasons why.

Home is where the table is.

Here are some pictures of our fellowship around (and sometimes on) the table in Orahovica over the years.

Mexican night for our high school group in 2009
Dutch Blitz "Croatian Cup" 2010

New Year's Celebration 2013

Emily's birthday 2014

Buffalo Wings 2014
January 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Cousins 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The End of an Era

It's been 10 years since we moved to Croatia, 9 since we began living in Orahovica and 8 since I started this blog.

Of the three, only living in Croatia will remain. Yes, we are moving. We will begin calling Zagreb - the capital of Croatia - home next week.

And so this blog will come to its inevitable end. Over the last few years I have blogged with less frequency. Acclimation to Croatia, more responsibilities and other outlets for writing have rendered it less useful. Its eventual end has been apparent for awhile. After this week it'll be official.

However, the move and decision to end the blog give me a great opportunity to share some final thoughts. Over the next few days, I plan to post daily. These posts will be influenced most by the events of this summer and our move.

This blog has provided me the opportunity to process a lot of what I was going through during my first years in Croatia. Although it has lost its importance to me, I value reading what I wrote in the past. I hope this last series will provide a fitting conclusion to a project that has helped me at first articulate, and later remember, important events and thoughts throughout our first decade in Croatia.

The picture below is of a chapel near where my family has vacationed for the last 10 summers. Kukljica is where the blog began and where it is ending.

St. Jerome's chapel, Kukljica Croatia

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Growing and Maturing Together

I watched the clouds roll by quickly above me as I tried to fall asleep. Only a mat and sleeping bag protected my back from the pebbles on the ground while my face lay bare to the open sky. I was joined by another leader from Macedonia and 12 teenagers from various former-Yugoslavian countries. We were camping next to a lake in the rugged mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the Royal Rangers Junior Leadership Camp. 

One of the challenges specific to this camping trip was that we packed no tents. Instead, we brought ponchos that would serve as shelter. There are various ways to set them up, but because they can't be closed or sealed there's no surefire way to prevent rain from coming in. We decided to connect the ponchos to make a long tent for the 12 boys. 

As one of the leaders, I went to bed last. That meant I could lay with my head outside the shelter in order to watch the ever-changing scenery above me. But as I lay with my head exposed, I thought about the possibilities: the unknown...animals...weather. And these worries were compounded by the fact that I was partly responsible for the well-being of all the teenagers with me. I felt vulnerable.

Rain dripped slowly through the sparse brush above me. I had resolved not to change positions but my mind changed as the sprinkle turned to a steady rain. I turned my body so my head was inside the tent like the 15 year old to my right and my colleague to the left. The younger one snored while the other, who shared my responsibility for the teenagers, lay awake. After an hour or so, the rain became heavy.

The outside of my sleeping bag was already damp. But now the cloth inside began sticking to my feet and legs like a cold heavy glue. As the noise of the rain increased, our covering began sagging, the mat became more raft-like and the question of how much longer to keep the teenagers in these conditions rang louder and louder in my head. We were at least a mile from a building with showers and beds.

"I think we should go!" my fellow leader told me as our watches showed 2 am. I agreed. We talked details, woke up the few sleeping campers and took our packs to an abandoned cafe terrace, leaving our sleeping bags and mats behind. Once everyone had gathered, we marched quickly through the downpour to shelter.

"Why do I need this?" I asked myself as I sloshed through one of the many ankle deep mud puddles. My thoughts first turned to the 12 teenagers behind me and the others who passed this training last year. "I'm here for them," I resolved. "I'm offering them a chance to grow and mature," I said in my head.

But that led me to a question. "Are they the only ones who need to grow and mature?" The obvious answer challenged me to embrace the situation I was in.

As a leader, sometimes I get too comfortable. It's easy to believe that I've become an expert at solving problems or knowing answers.  Experiences like the one I had last weekend allow me to expose my weaknesses, inexperience and fears while growing in my dependence on God. I need to grow too. And I need those who are walking alongside me to know that I don't have it all figured out.

That's the beautiful thing about making disciples of Jesus Christ - we can be in the process of becoming and making disciples at the same time. We grow together. This outlook allows us to be vulnerable, share our struggles and burdens knowing that the other has similar difficulties. This is one of the strengths of the Royal Rangers program: leaders and participants go through challenges together.

The teenagers showered and drank hot tea when we got back. We were all in bed by 4. It was a gracious end to the unpredictable camping trip. As I lay in my dry bed, I sensed God's hand of mercy upon us. He had cared for, watched over and protected us. But he had also provided a way for us to grow in our dependence on him. For all of those things I am thankful.