The Lord is My Shepherd

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures…  from Psalm 23

Sheep flocking to the empty lot on our street.

Spring had come to Niksic.  The growth of grass and weeds along the roadways and  empty lots brought the “grazers” to the neighborhood.   One morning I looked out the kitchen window at a large flock of sheep on the other side of our garden fence.  I quickly picked up the camera and raced out to see them.

Sheep in the empty lot "pasture" make great lawnmowers.

There were 30 or more sheep, filling the open lot, and following each other around munching on the sweet young grass.  Something I noticed while watching them was how they would dart from one location to another following each other.  It was as though they thought another sheep might have found sweeter grass over there and they didn’t want to miss out.

A little black lamp stands out in the crowd.

In my excitement I approached the “pastir” to find out about his sheep.  He nodded “no” to the “engleski” question, but somehow I was able to get the following information from our conversation:  This little flock is from Zabljak up north on the slopes of Durmitor.  It is still too snowy up there–this has been the heaviest winter in southern Europe in many decades.  Some of the lambs are only 10 days old.  The sheep are raised for their milk, which is used for cheese.  This cheese is “kajmak”, which basically is fermented butter.  It’s used as a spread on bread and in traditional recipes. Yum!

Sign Sealed and Delivered

One of the last projects, maybe it was THE last project, that we completed on this trip was the installation of a new exterior sign for the gathering place of the believers.  It’s their official church sign.  

We walked through our now familiar neighborhood, past the basketball lot, the step-down, the kindergarten, the ice cream kiosk and the chaotic intersection to the church.  Our two workmen traveled light in their “work truck” without wheels.

Mike finished his paint touch up on the wall. Voila, fiji.

The meeting facility shares the building with a sweet shop “Seventh Heaven” and an apartment upstairs.  Now they have their own identity on the premises.  In addition to serving as the worship center for Sunday morning, evening and Thursday evening prayer services, the saints gather there for personal study and for English classes on occasion.  It was also the site of the vacation Bible school that our home church, Faith Community Church in Oxnard, California hosted last summer (2011). It is a “temporary facility”, as they are looking into the future prospect of having a larger property that could be used for larger gatherings and activities, and to accommodate the increasing number of believers.

Our prayer as we stepped back from the installation is that God would be pleased to use it as a magnet to draw His people to hear the message of Christ the Savior.  We have come to love the people of Niksic, and desire that they would each be filled with the knowledge of the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


One of the great things about living in a house where there are a lot of people is that you can get a group together to play games.  Here in the Surbatovic home we have played many games:  Bang!, Scrabble (Mom’s favorite), Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Labyrinth, Uno and Apples to Apples.  Some games are good for bilingual play, some aren’t.

One last Apples to Apples together with Mike, Marko, Momo, Jelena and Tanja

Did you hear this joke:  What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages? Biligual  What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?  Trilingual.                             Someone who speaks 4 languages?  Quadrilingual.                                                        What do you call someone who speaks one language:  American


This week, two Danish girls flew in from Copenhagen. Their names are Tanja and Rebekka. We got to know them last time we were here in the summer.  They are both in their early twenties and in that stage between high school and university. In some countries of Europe, students take a year off of school and travel around and soak up culture. Tanja and Rebekka are both Christians and speak great English. We have this board/card game we like to play called Dominion. Basically, you see who can get the best cards and the most money so you can buy the most points at the end of the game. I’ve lost all the times we’ve played, but I hope that will change tonight. :D

Tomorrow is the day we say goodbye and I just want to say that I will miss everyone here. I’ve had a great time, but I miss everyone in California too. I feel like I have two homes now, Montenegro, and the US. Thank you everyone for tuning in and following us on our trip. See you all at home soon!


There and Back Again: Mike’s perspective

The trip home was a lot shorter than the trip there. I was very excited about the quick and easy 18 hour trip that we were taking and I was as prepared as I was going to get. I had music and books (all of which were on my iPod) and the trip flew by like nobody’s business.

The McLaughlin family got up at around six o’clock and did last minute preparations and said our goodbyes. The whole household got up early to give us one last round of hugs. We left the Surbatovic’s awesome house at seven o’clock, driven by Stan and accompanied by Milan. A quick stop at the Pekara one last time for my favorite meat burek, a reflective drive through these now familiar sites to the capital Podgorica and then we arrived at the aerodrom (airport) at thirty minutes to nine.

The plane lifted off at nine-thirty. It was a short forty-five minute flight, as opposed to a twelve hour twisting mountain bus or train ride. We arrived at Belgrade right on the ten-thirty mark and waited around in a caffe until our next flight was ready to go. At around one o’clock we left for Munich, another short one hour flight. When we landed we had to run over to our flight to LAX because it was already boarding when we landed. We made it on fine and the plane flight was very comfortable to me. I will not speak for my parents at this point. We all had personal entertainment.

Happy Brsday!

Happy Birthday, Michael!  I turned 16 on May 23.




Celebrating a birthday away from home can be an interesting experience, ask my sister, Laura with the summer birthday, she knows.  In the Surbatovic household you get to be “King for a Day”.  I got to choose my favorite meals, pick the board games to play and no one could say “no” to me.  So for breakfast Mom made her special cinnamon rolls, and then for lunch–our big meal of the day– we had paninis, Mrs. Surbatovic’s Italian pressed sandwiches.  As a side dish we had some really rich and creamy onion dip.  Mmmm.  Then for dinner we had cheesecake as the main coarse.  Not too painful!


The local Montenegrin culture has their own “Brsday” tradition.  This interesting tradition began with someone telling me this: “I’m sorry, I hate this tradition.”  I was curious, but when people started singing “Happy Birthday”, I agreed.  I feel awkward when people sing to me for my birthday.  There isn’t anything you can do.  If you sing along, you look like a dork. If you try to look serious, the volcanos in your cheeks give you away. (I come from a family of easy blushers).  If you sit there and smile, you are back to square one.  After the dreaded singing was over, three of the singers ran over to me (should I tell you which three?) and pulled my ears out of my head and stomped on my feet. Now I know what Jelena was trying to tell me. Thank you. Enough of this, back to the delightful subject of food.

I got to pick these meals, since it was my birthday, but I am not good at choosing things like this, so I grabbed some help from Josiah. The cheesecake was delicious and homemade. Thank you to Mrs. Surbatovic for making the cake! I got some chocolate from the Surbatovic’s and turkish delight from my roommate, Nemanja. All in all, it was a great day, even though I woke up with a sore throat. Other than that, I had fun and felt pampered all day long.
Thanks everybody for the birthday wishes!

Wild Life at the Vrtic

The Lord gives great opportunities EVERYDAY for us to reach out with ordinary things.  Today it came in the form of a toad, actually, 3 toads.  Richard was moving some old wood   beside the house, when he uncovered a family of toads.  I was just getting ready to go to the vrtic (pre-school) to bring some animal puppets Milijana had found.  They were some puppets Michael Saruwatari had sent with us last summer for the VBS here in Niksic. So I grabbed a bucket and put the toads in for an outing to school.

Richard built a puppet theater and I installed it at the school last week, the puppets were the perfect go-with.  And now the toads became the inspiration for the puppet show.

Putting on a show with Zaba the toad.

The children greeted me at the door with welcoming shouts of “Djulie, Djulie”, along with hugs and now even kisses!  So we gathered around a table and I introduced our toad family.  The kids squealed and chattered away about the Zaba (pronounced like the french “je”).  And when the big one jumped out of the bucket, they jumped and screamed too!

Here's the local domestic toad of Montenegro.

Then I showed them each of the animal puppets I brought and handed them out to students to play with at the puppet theater.  The teachers used the teachable moment to ask them questions and talk about the animals.  The children took turns “on the stage”, and then when I began taking photos, they each wanted me to take a photo of them.

Moje prijatelji vrtici!

What a delight it is to serve here at the school.  (If you recall from a previous post, Rada, a mature believer in the church body here, invited me to come to her school.)  While I don’t have the freedom to tell them Bible stories or teach them Bible songs in this setting,  I can love them with kindness, joy, time and attention.  And the teachers are equally receptive, they welcome me with smiles, thanks and curiosity, along with kafa and cookies.  I feel richly blessed. It is a good work the Lord is doing through Rada’s ministry here.




Lake Krupac

Stopping at the bridge on the Zeta River near Krupac.

This Saturday was another sightseeing day. Along the way to Lake Krupac we stopped at a cemetery (we were with my Mom). Anytime we go anywhere there is usually a sepulcher experience, sometime with snakes, sometimes without. I prefer the ones without. This cemetery was at an old church called Saint Nikola. Basically, it was an old building, with spiderwebs and little patches of grass growing off the side, and a big spire at the top that looked suspiciously like a tv antenna.

On the way to Krupac, (pronounced Crew-pots), we meandered down a long driveway and the nice farmer helped turn around at his barn. He pointed us in the right direction and chuckled when he saw the California license plate. He had a nice little area on the top of a hill overlooking vast expanses of green farmland.

Lake Krupac was pretty large, considering it is not the largest lake in Montenegro.   The water was crystal clear and you could see all the minnows in the water, ranging from one or two inches long, to maybe a foot or a foot and a half. We had some pizza at the little Krupac Restoran that was nearby, overlooking the lake. We had a nice view and even saw some American tourists! I don’t think we fully understand how much we stand out in a foreign country.

This looks like a great place to go fishing.

The Coast of Montenegro and Croatia

Walked the entire perimeter of the Old Town wall at Dubrovnik, Croatia

We have had the pleasure of visiting the Montenegro and Croatian coast twice and both times we were overwhelmed with the beauty of the Mountains, Beaches and Sea. Last month Milan, our neighbor and operator of the European Tonewood business (see previous post), was our guide to the coastal city of Budva. Budva is one of the oldest cities on the entire coast, with history dating back 2500 years. The current Old Town of Budva has fortress-type walls that encircle a pedestrian-only city dating back 1000 years. All of the streets are narrow and the stone sidewalks are smooth from age and wear. It was a fun place to visit, lots of shops, resturants, churches and homes. It’s like a maze, walking through the narrow streets with the buildings on all sides 3 and 4 stories high.

This is in the Old Town of Budva, pedestrian only streets

The beach areas at Budva are “The” place to go in the summer. Called the Budva Riviera, thousands of tourists flock to the pebble sand beaches increasing the density of the city exponentially. It’s Montenegro’s Miami Beach. Fortunately for us, we were there on a slightly rainy early spring day and had the place to ourselves. At lunch time we walked the path along the harbor past numerous restaurants and stopped to read the posted menus. The maitre’d  would come out in the rain and tell us about his restaurant, very politely, no pressure sales. We finally just picked Jadran (Adriatic) and had a great lunch much to Mike’s delight.

In Budva, Mike found a centuries old Entry but no one was home

About 10 minutes south of Budva is Sveti Stefan and the Villa Milocer. God’s paintbrush is manifested here as the azure blue Adriatic Sea meets the almost pink pebble sand. The mountains rise up immediately with a thick forest of olive trees. As we walked along the Queen’s Beach Mike asked if this is what Heaven is like. (It had something to do with the scent of wisteria.) We found an area of beach that had perfectly flat, fist sized pink stones and skipped quite a few across a perfectly flat ocean.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

Queen's Beach & Bay, Villa Milocer, Montenegro

The entire island of Sveti Sefan and the Villa Milocer are part of the Aman Resort and has no problem living up to its 5-star rating. Intricate stone work and wisteria surrounds the Villa and the fragrance can be noticed right down to the water’s edge.

Wisteria surrounds the Villa Milocer

Typical walks and walls around the Villa

On our trip to Croatia, the giant walled-city of Dubrovnik, it was a crystal clear day.  I thought it was overcrowded with tourists. I’ve since been corrected. Apparently it wasn’t even tourist season yet! Around 800 cruise ships visit the Croatian coast each year….most of them stop at Dubrovnik. It’s practically indescribable. It has an Old Town like Budva but is gigantic. It is a completely walled-in fortress city. We spent about 3 hours just walking on the perimeter walls.

Up high in a guard tower looking over just part of Dubrovnik

This city, like Old Town Budva, is a pedestrian-only city with hundreds of shops, cafes, restaurants, I think there are 5 churches, art galleries… would take you at least 2 days and evenings to discover Old Town Dubrovnik completely. It makes me wonder what it was like to live here centuries ago

Live music and dancing on the main street in Dubrovnik

Milans daughter, Jovana, a second year university student majoring in journalism had never seen Dubrovnik, so she came along and was a big help at the border crossings. She speaks English very well. And she enjoyed all the picture taking, she wasn’t embarrassed to be a tourist.

Jovana helped to interpret when needed

Walled fortress of Dubrovnik meets the Sea

Mike relaxing next to a typical Dubrovnik street wall

Stone is the ubiquitous building material on the Balkan Peninsula.  It is seen in an amazing variety of patterns, textures and configurations.  The limestone streets of Dubrovnik are honed to a smooth patina by years of foot traffic.  The wall behind Mike had a beautiful warm glow.  Some of the rough stone walls have become home to plants.


May Day Montenegro Style

May first in Montenegro is the laborer’s day off.  They celebrate it in many ways.  We were invited to join in an annual hike hosted by the steel mill, beer brewery, alpine club and army veterans.  We were attempting to summit Vojnik, “Soldier Mountain”, a 6500-foot high mountain of limestone in the  Dinaric Alps.  From the base it has an elevation change of 2700 feet.  Oh, yeah, bring it on!

So, we assembled in town at the old military headquarters (now abandoned) and caravanned up the highway north about 40 minutes to the trailhead.

Danica, Jelena V and Richard at the start of the hike.

Excitement was high as we assembled in the large, grassy meadow.  There were people of all ages and abilities.  The organizer, who leads the alpine club and has a rustic restaurant/cafe in town, supplied fresh breakfast rolls for everyone.  And after a brief speech we were all off.  I think the key message was “Follow someone who knows where they’re going, don’t get lost and there will be beer afterwards”.

We initially followed an old logging road, direction UPWARD.  We took a couple rest stops at little meadows which serve as “camps” for shepherds during their summer season grazing.  (Think “Heidi”.)  The second of these stops was to become the site of our post-hike celebration picnic.

There is no shortage of rocks in Montenegro.  To say the terrain was rocky is  an understatement.  We walked up, over and through every manner of rock imaginable, some even covered in grass, leaves and snow.

This was a little "Heidi" meadow in the shadow of the peak, it was our destination point.


After an hour or so, the parties divided, and we went with the “easier” trail.  It looked easier for awhile and then we went vertical.  We started seeing snow along the side of the trail, and eventually had to trek through it.  This is wild country, no one comes along and trims the shrubs or berry vines back for you.  We reached what looked like the top only to find that there were three more ridges to traverse before we came to the summit. We followed what seemed like a deer trail along a very steep slope. Soon, it became no trail at all, just a general direction toward the peak.  It was breath-taking, meaning we were out of breath and wondering if we dared continue up.  That’s about the time that the little alpine meadow below began to look so inviting.

So, along with Stan and Vicki and some other “mid-achievers” we rested in the “Heidi” meadow.  We filled our water bottles at the well, and made some new friends.  A foursome of university students came over to us, unfortunately they were not English majors at the university. One of the girls said she knew Spanish from watching “peliculas”and soap operas. I was surprised how quickly my Spanish came back to me, and we were able to talk about a number of things.  Soon the other three students joined in with English, which was much better than my Serbian, and we had some good conversations.  We even exchanged Facebook identities.  Their acquaintance was the highlight of our expedition, seeing the opportunities God gives us to connect with special people here.


We watched the many “high-achiever” hikers (from a distance) as they crossed the ridges and reached the summit.  Those who conquered the mountain got to enter their names on a ledger at the top.  We turned and began our descent on the old logging road. It was a long trip down, and quite steep.  What a relief to finally arrive at the meadow with the three 4-wheel drive vehicles and the little “camp” set up for lunch.

Ah, picnic Montenegro style!  Real dishes, real food, really tasty!  The army cook provided a tank of hot navy bean soup with big chunks of ham.  The brewery provided the kegs of cool beer, Niksic’s claim to fame, and the alpine club provided the inch-thick slices of fresh bread.  There was also a well at the site for fresh water and washing up.  I was impressed that it was all done by the men, the ladies got the day off, how nice.

What goes up, must come down.

Our extended group was one of the last ones to return.  They had all been victorious in conquering the summit, we were proud of them!  Lunch was in progress, and everyone seemed to have hearty appetites

Thirsty hikers lining up at the beer keg.



Meat-eaters Paradise

Hello, Mike here. On Monday it was a major construction event at the house.  Josiah, Mili and I had to vacate the school room and Vicki was crowded out of the kitchen for the day too.  It happened to be Mom and Dad’s anniversary and so they declared it was an out-to-lunch day.  Lunch is the big dinner meal of the day here, served in the early to mid-afternoon.  So, we went to the Rio Rostilj Dva!

It’s my favorite food place from our visit last summer with the “team”.  The name basically means Rio Grill Two (“Two” because there is another one in Niksic.) Since the people here don’t use street names very often, they can’t say, “Hey! I’ll meet you on the Jack in the Box on the corner of Las Posas”. Things don’t work that way here. So, if there is a chain of restaurants, they call one the first one, and the other, the second and so on. The food is delicious. It’s grilled meat, with fries and grilled onions. There was one kind of sausage that had cheese in the middle and that was SO delicious! I’ve never had anything like it in the states. Very tender meats, and the bacon was about a half-inch thick.

The coke here comes in little glass bottles, but this time they served from cans. It was a short lived bummer, because then we got the main course. The mixed grill plate:  pork tenderloins, sausages, chicken. The fries are soaked through with oil, and better tasting than any fries I’ve had anywhere else. We also had a couple vegetable salads:  cabbage and tomato with cucumber, because the moms were with us.  

Incidentally, this is also the day of my parents anniversary. So, we had a double special lunch day!