Journal Entry: Coronavirus Week 1; Earthquakes

Two weeks ago, my wife traveled from Croatia across the border to Hungary for the weekend without a hitch. She went to a women’s gathering while I stayed at home with our five children. My parents and my mother-in-law helped me manage the whole situation. Our life was completely normal. There were 12 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Croatia.

One week ago, Petra and I went out for breakfast in Zagreb to plan for the upcoming change in our schedule. The government had just announced that there would be no school for at least the next two weeks. With four of our children affected, we had to plan ahead. Thankfully Croatian officials were on the ball. They had already begun recording classes for pupils to watch on television and over the internet. There were 49 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Croatia.

Zagreb on March 14th

Today, we’re not allowed to cross the border to any other country. We can’t go to a restaurant because they’re all closed. In fact, we’re not allowed to leave our apartment if we’re not getting necessities for my parents or ourselves. Today, or rather right now, there are 206 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Croatia – 78 more than yesterday at this time.

We’ve kept our eye on what’s going on in Italy for awhile now. They are, after all, a ferry ride or highway away from us. The Croatian minister of health has been incredible. He’s been one step ahead the whole time. Yesterday they filled an arena with beds to supplement the hospitals if this situation gets bad fast. Officials have been calm, but strict. Even today, with the high spike in confirmed cases, I feel confident I am in a country where the politicians and health officials are leading wisely.

I’m not sure I can say the same about myself. At home, with five kids between eleven months and eleven years, it has gotten chaotic at times. Sure, it’s nice not driving all over Zagreb to baseball practices, swimming lessons and parent-teaching conferences. But having 5 less-than-mature personalities around me all the time can be draining. So it has been nice having my parents around to help with the kids.

Last week, they enjoyed time with our 11 month old Mihej in the park on a daily basis.

But parks around the city were closed on Thursday. And my parents have been told to self-quarantine. So they are no longer able to spend time with their grandkids – one of the main reasons they decided to come to Croatia for a year.

I took the kids out to play baseball a couple times this week. But these sort of outings are also no longer allowed.

So we are at home together for the next 4 weeks at least. This is our new reality. It’s going to take some getting used to. Yet, as I write, I realise that if we are all at home together for the next 4 weeks, we’re going to be just fine. It’ll be challenging. But it’s a lot better than the alternative of one or more of us being hospitalized.

So I’m thankful; thankful for those whose authority we are under; thankful for a wife who has been so very patient during this time; thankful that my parents are close; thankful to more closely observe and interact with my children as they grow and learn.

As I edit this and get ready to post, Zagreb has been shaken by several earthquakes this morning. Among other damage, the first quake broke one of the spires on the cathedral.

Photo: HINA/Daneil KASAP)

A pandemic and earthquakes; it seems like a lot. But we’re still far away from many around the world who are dealing with wars, famines and other catastrophes.

That’s not to say we’re not affected as a family. We are. But Psalm 46 is an incredible help during this time:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

All the events of this week have made this command more relevant and important to me.

May I, may we, Lord, learn to be still and know that you are God.

On Walking

I recently wrote about a hike I went on with my mentor in Northern Hungary. That’s a rarity. However, modern day technology allows us to walk together almost once a week. Although I live in Croatia and he’s in the U.S. we manage to simultaneously walk while talking on Tuesday evenings–he in the peaceful Virginia woods near his house, me on the streets of Zagreb.

Sveti Duh, Zagreb

Though he and I have talked weekly for more than 7 years, walking while talking is a relatively new thing. I’ve noticed it has boosted our conversations. Of course, one of the reasons is because as we walk we release endorphins which in turn reduces stress and anxiety. An hour long walk by myself would already be healthy.

But I think there’s more to it than that.

The Bible often uses the word ‘walking’ to describe a person or people who live according to God’s ways. Take the scene when Solomon is finished dedicating the temple, for example. He finishes his benediction in front of Israel this way: “Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments…” (I Kings 8:61, emphasis mine).

The New Testament picks up on the idea of walking. Paul says that we ought to “…walk in love as Christ loved us…” (Eph. 5:2). John, in his first letter, writes that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way he walked.” (I Jn 2:6). Without doing a comprehensive study of the biblical concept, it seems as if ‘walking’ refers to the way one lives their whole life. In the Old Testament, walking means commitment to the law; in the New, it refers to dedication to the one who fulfilled the Law.

A path in Vojvodina

The other day, our time difference was only 5 hours (rather than 6) because the U.S. had sprung forward but Croatia hadn’t yet. That evening, my mentor was finishing his walk as I began mine. It really wasn’t a big deal. He chopped vegetables and did other stuff around the house while I walked. We still had a good conversation. But it helped me understand the reason why I’ve noticed that walking together improves disciple making conversations.

Walking is an actual activity (not just symbolic) that when done together often reduces external distractions while requiring each person to exert energy therefore curtailing internal distractions.

Free of these potential minor interruptions, conversations naturally occur at a higher level. They’re cleaner, in a sense. Drinking coffee together, something I do very often with friends, has inherent disturbances that walking doesn’t. Driving, another context for quality conversations, isn’t active. My proposal is that walking together is the best possible activity for disciple making conversations.

I don’t want to overstate this. There are times when walking together doesn’t automatically make a conversation more productive or encouraging. There are many instances when it’s not practical. Drinking coffee is still a great way to ask questions and get to know each other.

Still, I’ve tested this theory numerous times with those I mentor and have close friendships with and have found that it holds true. It would seem that growing closer to our Lord often happens while walking–whether metaphorically or literally. What is your experience?

Reflections on Turning 40

Image source

I stared puzzled, as my dad walked towards the long black car. My mom told me it was called a “hearse” and was used to take dead people to their funeral. Her explanation didn’t clear up my confusion. Never, in my ten-year-old life, had I seen a hearse before.

My father’s face was a combination of excitement and surprise I had never seen before. He was followed by a crowd of jubilant friends who had organized this event for him. My mom told me that this was a surprise party. He was celebrating his 40th birthday.

It was a joke of course, and a very well planned one at that. The hearse was followed by a procession of at least 20 cars long whose passengers were laughing and having a great time. Other drivers thoughtfully pulled over, respectfully showing their condolences.

Despite the fact that the whole thing was a lighthearted prank, ever since that moment, 40 has been correlated with death in my mind. It’s not that I’m particularly bothered by the thought of death. Rather, it’s the decline of life, I think, that gets me anxious.

I celebrate my 40th birthday this year. As I’ve been creeping up into my late thirties, I’ve tried not to think about 40. The truth is, I’m just not excited about being 40 years old.

The number 40 carries remarkable significance in the Bible. It almost seems like a code word for “test”. Israel was tested 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted after his 40 day fast in the wilderness. There’s Noah’s ark, Moses’ fast on the mountain and a whole host of other narratives surrounding the number 40.

Lately I’ve been drawn, however, to the book of Lamentations. For the last several years, if there’s one text I’ve continually come back to, it’s this:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

Therefore I will hope in him.

Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

This book of laments was likely written by Jeremiah as he sat in front of the ruins of Jerusalem. His life was devastated. But the LORD was his portion.

Job’s worst fear (3:25) came true and he lost everything. But the LORD was his portion.

In front of the cross, Jesus agonized over bearing the wrath of his Father. But the LORD was his portion.

If 40 is a year of testing, I pray that I am able to say, along with many, the Lord is my portion. Therein lies our only source of hope, regardless of the situation we’re in.

When the hearse finally stopped, we gathered in a park where my father’s friends gave him gifts and we celebrated his life. There was lots of laughter, smiles and fun. I don’t remember a lot more about the party, but I do recall feeling joy.

That’s it, right? Our lives are filled with signs of death and decay while also experiencing moments of joy. It’s like we’re living a paradox. And whenever the round birthdays approach we get more anxious about the darker parts of life. At least I did this time around.

But the source of hope in the midst of potential pain and suffering allows us to go on. Jeremiah says remembering it completely changed his perspective (3:21)! And knowing there is hope gives way to joy. As Paul encourages us to do, we can be satisfied regardless of the situation we are in. Not only that, but we can rejoice!

So this year is a year of remembering to rejoice. I rejoice because I know I have hope when the LORD is my portion. I take joy in the people around me who have invested in my life. I’m satisfied because I have all I need and more. For me, 40 is a reminder to rejoice.

Why I’ve Decided to Cancel my MLB.TV Subscription

Dear MLB.TV,

I’ve decided to cancel my subscription this year. There is one main reason: For the first time in my lifetime, I don’t trust Major League Baseball.

The strike-shortened season of ’94 and steroid use also threatened to affect my trust of the game. And as I remember, they did to a certain extent. But I think this scandal is different for several reasons:

  • The Astros cheated as a team. As Jose Altuve bravely admitted, the Astros were in it together. As courageous as his statement was though, it shows that he could have done more to put an end to the malfeasance. From owner Jim Crane to utility man Marwin Gonzalez, the entire team was part of the scheme. There is strength in unity. As obvious as the signs seem now, it stayed a secret as long as it did because the Astros worked together. Unified corruption is a huge threat to the health of any organization.
  • The Astros achieved the ultimate goal in Major League Baseball while cheating. The Home Run record is a peripheral part of baseball. Individual stats are a byproduct. But every kid knows winning the World Series is what matters. It is impossible for the Astros to make the argument that cheating ddn’t help them get to – or win- the World Series. If that were true, they wouldn’t have done it.
  • There’s more. While the Commissioner has done some things to get to the bottom of this, the fact that new details come out on a regular basis shows that this disease is as contained in Houston as the Coronavirus is in China. What will come of the Red Sox report? Which other teams have developed methods that are more sophisticated than banging trash cans? And what’s going to happen when play resumes and Carlos Correa gets beaned? It’s going to take a while for all this to play out.

To put it simply, I don’t want my money to support your product while this saga continues. I will watch highlights, continue to follow the game and talk to my sons about it, hoping they fall in love with baseball. But I want them to know that the integrity of the game is just as important as the game itself. If it’s not clean, it’s not worth watching. I need some time to evaluate whether MLB has really taken care of this.

I understand that this cancellation won’t even make a dent in the machine that is Major League Baseball. But I’m asking one person at a time – player, manager, owner or commissioner – to make a difference. I don’t think there’s anything fans can do more than let their money do the talking. Here’s my effort to do so.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Bohall

Being Who We Are

For the last nine years I’ve had the privilege of going up to northern Hungary for a few days to get away for a period of renewal. Last week was 2020’s version. On the first day, my friend Tom and I went for a five hour hike up to the peak of Tót-hegyes.

The peak of Tót-hegyes

As we made our way out of the village, a dog joined us. I had been told about him; a young enthusiastic pup whose name sounded like ‘Choppy’. He immediately found a stick and laid it in our path as we began our hike. We took turns picking it up and throwing it or flicking it with our walking stick for the first fifteen minutes or so. I figured he’d tire soon. But he didn’t.

In fact, he walked with us for the first hour, then the second, never giving up on the stick even when we didn’t engage. By the time we reached the peak of the mountain, he was still there, stick in mouth, ready to play.

It occurred to me as I looked at his anxious face that he hadn’t had any plans for the day. He hadn’t known he would climb four miles up a mountain. He hadn’t prepared by drinking water or bringing energy bars. He hadn’t mapped his course out ahead of time. Choppy just found a pair of companions who were semi-kind to him and followed them wherever they went. In the end, he only went because he had someone to follow.

In fact, as far as I could tell, his only objective on our hike was to be with us. Sure, he wanted to play with the stick. But he followed even after we hadn’t thrown the stick for over an hour.

What if that were our main objective? As disciples of Jesus, what if just being with Jesus overshadowed everything else?

Of course, the dog didn’t have much else to do. He had no sermons to prep, no business deals to complete, no final exams to study for. That dog was just doing what most dogs in his situation do.

That, of course, is true. He was just being a dog. But I’m convinced God has surrounded us with simpler beings in order to remind us to simplify. Jesus’ words to his disciples about having faith like a child is the prime example.

In the end, Choppy reminded me of Jesus’ example of being with the Father. We often skip over them, but the Gospels are full of examples of Jesus withdrawing in order to be with the Father.

  • …Jesus withdrew from that place (Matthew 12:15)
  • When Jesus heard what happened, he withdrew… (Matthew 14:13)
  • Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:4)

Jesus’ main priority was being with the Father. Consider some of Jesus’ words:

  • Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (Luke 2:49)
  • And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…(John 17:3)

Jesus’ primary goal was to be with the Father and to do his will. He modeled it. And he taught his followers to do the same:

  • Follow me… (Matthew 4:19)
  • Abide in me, and I in you…(John 15:4)
  • If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.(Matthew 16:24)
  • And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)

We have the tendency to look at that last verse and imagine doing good things, or doing things like Jesus did. “Doing” is so engrained in our thinking about following Jesus. But I imagine Jesus is instructing us to be more like Choppy – just follow where the Master is going and everything else will follow.

What if, like Choppy, we as Christians were known for doing what we do being who we are – followers of Jesus?

Being and Making Disciples

In almost every respect, I have lived a very fortunate life.

Yet as I grow as a follower of Christ, I realize that my greatest wealth comes from the investments others have made as they have discipled me.

During my thirty-three years as a Christian, there have been only one or two years in which I did not have someone intentionally teaching me, asking me questions, or advising me. Someone was always praying for me.

Like most privileged people, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was until I became an adult. Having children also helps me appreciate what I received. For a long time, I just assumed that most people who attended church received the sort of godly guidance I had received. But that’s just not true.

There is a deficit of disciple-making around the globe.

Living in Croatia for more than ten years has helped me see that this country and its neighbors suffer from an acute lack of disciple-making. Of course this is a generalization; but the exceptions are rare.

Observing the lack of disciple-making globally and experiencing its effects locally, I decided to investigate the sources of the problem. I also began looking for solutions. My quest prompted the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree.

Image Source

The first half of that paper was recently published in Kairos, the evangelical journal of theology in Croatia. The English version is available here. I am thankful for the kindness of the people at Kairos who translated it into Croatian. That version is available here.

Disciple-making doesn’t become successful through a thesis or a paper, however. Making disciples happens when we are thoughtfully and intentionally obedient to the Lord’s commission.


This blog has had a slow start; but now I plan to write more regularly. Its purpose will be to continually remind myself of our task. I hope that it will prove to do the same for others.

Training in Discipline

Photo by Ivan Milić

Our National Training Camp in Orahovica had just finished. I stood in the middle of our campsite with my friend Danijel, who had led the camp. We were tired but satisfied.

“I can’t believe how quickly this place can go from thirty people living in self-made campsites—cooking, eating and sleeping—to empty in a matter of a few hours,” I commented to Danijel.

In the morning, the campsite had been bustling; mini fires heated pots of water for coffee while campers prepared the table for breakfast. Now, the place was vacant—as if nothing had happened.

The truth is, we had planned the transition before the camp began. The responsibilities had been divided up ahead of time. There would be a leader in charge of receiving the equipment from each team. Another leader would take charge of making sure all the wood was put back, while a third oversaw the packing of tents. Danijel made sure everything was happening as planned. Other leaders assisted in the deconstruction.

The newly trained campers untied their knots, took apart the wooden structures, packed up their tents, and “vacuumed” the campsite with their hands. Everyone had done his part. No one was over-burdened and everyone participated. In the end, I realized the quick transformation of the campsite was symbolic of the entire four days.

This camp had been successful because it had been an example of teamwork, learning and discipline.

Discipline. That’s the thought that has stayed with me. Our camp went from a fully functional living space to empty in less than two hours because we, as a team of Royal Rangers, had been disciplined.

Photo by Ivan Milić

Various images come to mind when we think of discipline. But I believe true discipline is most evident in its results. The Rangers who had participated in the camp take-down weren’t wearing military uniforms or bulging with muscles. Instead, the state of the campsite told the story in the end.

As we look to the future of Royal Rangers in Croatia, I would like us to be known for grace-filled discipline. I believe that means not haughty, self-serving, militaristic behavior, but constant growth in the various values Royal Rangers espouse. I’d like us to be known for the fruit we produce with the Lord’s help and guidance.

Photo by Ivan Milić

As Christians and as Rangers we have a standard. 


In his commission to make disciples, Jesus instructed his disciples to teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” That’s a huge command!


Royal Rangers is a tool that assists us in this task. Rangers are:

  • ALERT: mentally, physically, and spiritually
  • CLEAN: in body, mind, and speech
  • HONEST: not lying, cheating, or stealing
  • COURAGEOUS: brave, in spite of danger, criticism, or threats
  • LOYAL: faithful to his church, family, outpost, and friends
  • COURTEOUS: polite, kind, and thoughtful
  • OBEDIENT: to his parents, leaders, and those in authority
  • SPIRITUAL: prays, reads the Bible, and witnesses

It’s my desire that, as Royal Rangers, we grow in these values, trusting that the Lord will make us fruitful.

Photo by Ivan Milić
Photo by Ivan Milić
Photo by Jeremy Bohall

The Pool

His expression changed completely when I told him about the pool.  The toys, friends and comfort of the house which had satisfied him just seconds ago were quickly forgotten when prompted to search for a container of liquid refreshment. 


As we began, he led himself – despite the fact that the path was new.  The first obstacle was a steep incline. It proved difficult, but his anticipation pulled him up and the stronger hand behind him pushed when he needed it.  


There was no time to look behind him once he accomplished the climb, though he was proud.  “I did it daddy!” he said with his eyes fully focused ahead and his legs renewed with a simpler plane to walk on.  


He did not seem surprised that he didn’t need a leader, despite the fact he had never walked the path before.  His feet automatically followed the shape of the way and though there were rough spots and rocks his forward gaze smoothed over the effect they had on his stride. He walked confidently. 


“What’s that?”  A new sound was the first interruption of our expedition.  It even caused him to stop.  


“It’s the cars driving on the road ahead of us.” I responded. 


“But I can’t see the cars.” 


“Can you hear them?” I asked. 


“Yes”, he said with resolution and began walking again. 


“Soon enough you will see them.  After you see them, you will see ours.  Then we will get in the car and drive to the place where they sell the pool.” 


“Pool?” he said excitedly, “I see the cars!” 


We drove without any talk of the prize.  Though it had been used as a legitimate motivation for leaving the house without complaining, the fact that I had no idea what kind of pool we would find led me to believe it would be better not to bring it up.  And there was no need to. 


“Water!” he exclaimed as we descended on a scene of aqua clear sea.   The palm trees in the foreground were like fat exclamation marks punctuating the mood change that came with the new view.   “I wanna see more!” 


“Would you like to take a walk next to the water?” I asked, happy that the subject of the pool had been forgotten.  


“Yes!” 


I was convinced there would be plenty of pools at the store as soon as I saw the number of people along the water.  Beachgoers of all ages drank in everything that accompanies a hot day by the Adriatic.  We took a way that would lead us to the store.


The children splashing in the water made it hard for my son to remember that he didn’t have any swimwear.  We hadn’t come prepared to indulge in the temptation that was all around us.  The need for keys and a wallet had convinced me of the benefit of changing out of my trunks before we left.  


A tinge of irony set in as our view changed from that of the sparkling sea to a row of stores.  My son’s tone changed too.  Whining began.  He liked the thought of cooling off now.  He had witnessed the fulfillment others found and he couldn’t stand to leave.  Maybe he found something in common with the Adriatic – the fact that the rocks lining the sea could no more hold back the waves than his three year old body could contain his energy.  


As his cries filled the air, my reminders of the pool no longer satisfied him.  It had become just a symbol now – an inadequate symbol at that.  


He had seen the real thing.  There was no going back. 

Photo by Jeremy Bohall

Note: This post was originally posted on my previous blog.

Defining Terms

One of the things that jumps out to me when I read is how an author defines the terms she or he is using. This is even more true when reading a book about “discipleship”. As Dallas Willard has pointed out, “the term discipleship has currently been ruined as far as any solid psychological or biblical content is concerned.” Whatever the author has to say about discipleship won’t mean much at all until its clear what exactly they have in mind.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann in his book The Word That Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship has a fascinating definition of “disciple making”. He says this:

Making disciples means to bring others under the disciplines that mark the followers of Jesus.

But the following comment adds weight to his explanation:

It is assumed in such an enterprise that the primal core of disciples is indeed under discipline themselves, so that they can instruct new recruits into the practices and habits that will sustain life and mission…

Brueggeman has at least partially offered us a picture of what the disciple-making church ought to look like. It is a group growing in the disciplines as they endeavor to obey Jesus’ commands. And it is a body dedicated to teaching others to live the way Jesus instructed.

I suspect that this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned the earliest church on the mountain in Galilee.

Mission Impossible

I’m convinced that it is impossible to make disciples of Jesus Christ without prayer. Let me put it in even stronger terms:

If we’re not praying for those we’re discipling, we’re not discipling.

Image Source

This is a theme that ought to be developed further. However, if you are serious about a biblical vision of disciple making, it ought to be evident that prayer is an essential ingredient.

The reason I post this though is because it’s probably the thing I am worst at. I need a reminder.

So, if you and I are serious about making disciples of Jesus Christ, let’s stop what we’re doing.

Go for a prayer walk. Turn down the music in your car and pray. Put a half hour of time in your calendar to pray. Do whatever it takes to devote time to pray for those you are discipling.

If we can’t make time to pray, we’re not actually making disciples.