But our time in Montenegro (March 16-22) was different. We were headed to Montenegro not to encourage the local IFES work there, but to attend a staff consultation at which we would be teaching and training. Bar, Montenegro was picked because it was on the Adriatic, a picturesque spot, and the hotel owner was supportive of the student ministry and offered a great rate for the 50 staff and family members who attended the three-day event. While we offered teaching (on leadership development, women’s leadership development, and avoiding or dealing with burnout), the consultation was meant to offer refreshment for staff, with large gaps of free time and opportunities to connect with other staff from around the Balkan region of South Eastern Europe.
But since we were coming to Bar, and had a few days between our last day in Belarus and the beginning of the conference, we did connect with people doing ministry in Montenegro, and I taught a “Situational Leadership” session for students and professionals in Podgoritca, and I led a leadership Bible study for 20 students and staff at the local IFES office near the university campus. A good gathering for a fledgling IFES group.
Finally, we took the coastal route to Bar, and passed by Kotor, an ancient and beautiful coastal town with not one, not two, but three monasteries located there, one built into the rock up the mountain, and two on twin islands in the middle of the bay on the Adriatic Sea. While there, we had lunch with some folks doing church planting there, and I had a conversation with a young man who had come from Minsk to work in the new church effort. Lisa and I had come from Belarus to Montenegro, so we were telling him of our visit to Belarus. He asked us, “Did you visit Gomel?” We had to acknowledge that we visited six different university towns in Belarus, but Gomel was not one of them. He said, “Oh, Gomel is the most beautiful city! You must visit it!” It did strike me as funny, because here we were in Kotor, nestled between mountains and sea, amid old world charm and modern seaside resort hotels, and he was saying that Gomel is beautiful, in a country that has no mountains and no coastline. I said to our friend, “Would you say it is as beautiful, or more beautiful, than Kotor?” To which he acknowledged that while Gomel had neither mountains nor coastline, it was still quite beautiful. I enjoyed hearing this forlorn Belarussian wax eloquent of his home, while living in what had to be a ranking global leader for natural beauty, and has been acknowledged as such by multiple sets of monastic pilgrims (two Orthodox, one Catholic) over the centuries.