Sunday, December 21, 2008


How do we know when God is blessing us? Are we blessed when we live in peaceful times? Are we blessed when we have no worries about paying the bills, buying groceries, clothing our families and heating our homes? When we have no worries about crime, no worries about being able to assemble freely to worship? Or worse yet, are we blessed just because we happen to live in (or be citizens of, rather) of a certain North American nation? So what about those people who live in war-torn countries, who are miserably impoverished, living under constant threat of terrorism, or who must worship the Lord secretly? Are they not blessed?

Or would you say that the real blessing is where the Church is increasing exponentially, where people would go to any length to hear the Word preached, where people actually READ their Bibles, where Christians are publicly proclaiming their faith and refusing to be silenced by, or conformed in any way to, the surrounding pagan culture?

I've been struggling for a long time with the idea of praying for God to bless... anyone or anything. That probably seems strange. But I've mostly been struggling because I wanted to make sure I knew what I thought I was asking for, and what I really was asking for. Blessing seems like such a generality. "Dear God, please do something nice for this person or situation" (nice being one of the most insipid words EVER). For such a long time, the idea of "blessing" in my mind has been linked to "God Bless America." That is, what I described in my first paragraph: peaceful times, but spiritual warfare; bounteous times, but a famine of hearing the Word; times of liberty, but enslavement to sin; the ability to make one's own choices, and having every choice be made only for the self. If that's what I have in mind when I'm asking for blessing, then why pray for what people already have in spades? And when one has something in that much plenty, how can more of it be anything other than insipid? Nice.

It really hit me today when I was listening to someone talk about how many blessings we have in this part of the world. And I guess if that material stuff counts as real blessing, then we're blessed. But these things are a part of God's general grace, part of that rain He sends on the fields of the wicked as well as the fields of the righteous. That is, this kind of blessing isn't real: it doesn't have anything to do with Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world.

No, I want to pray for REAL blessing. And what do I think that will probably mean? It will mean asking for what's described in the second paragraph: people WANTING to hear the Word, loving to hear again and again the story of the Cross, looking forward to Bible-reading and devouring the Word when the time comes. Real blessing would be having the Word spread and the Church grow like wildfire. Real blessing hinges on Christ and His work for us on the cross.

Unfortunately for the fat, happy, prosperous lot of Westerners, the first kind of "blessing" and the second (
read: real) blessing don't seem to go hand in hand. When we live in peace, when we have freedom to worship, when we have enough material blessings to not worry about tomorrow, we generally don't care a rip about God (or if we care about God, we can easily describe him apart from Christ). But when circumstances are tough and downright dangerous for the Church, things start to get really interesting. That's when God's work is accomplished for real (John 6:28-9).

I know there isn't a single new insight in this post. I could tell you that about anything and everything that happens under the sun (see Eccl. 1:9). The point is that I think I finally figured out what it means to pray that God will bless. Praying for God to bless the Church the way that God wants to bless the Church (i.e. growing her up and making for Himself a faithful people) is to ask something very hard. There is nothing bland about truly praying for blessing. To pray for blessing must be to pray that God will do what it takes to grow the number who will enter His kingdom. It seems from today's headlines, and a brief glance at Church history, that for Him to really bless the Church, the Church will necessarily experience difficulty and suffering.

I therefore resolve not to pray bland prayers for general "blessing and niceness" to occur to people. I resolve not to pray for blessing that doesn't require Jesus Christ dead on the cross. I resolve to pray that God will do what it takes, regardless of the discomfort, regardless of the tears, regardless of the opinion of sinful man.

Lord, grow your Church! You did the most unfathomable thing to save us, so rescue Your people, whatever it takes! Keep us captive to Your Word. Come back soon. Amen

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rough Day

Whoever said teaching junior high students is easy was a big, fat liar.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Being Santa

Today is the saint day of Nicholas of Myra. A little background on him: He was a pastor in Myra, Turkey in the 4th century and was known for his generosity and care for children. Santa Claus as a character was inspired by him. I've known this for a long time ("Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way..."), but I have been so confused as to how he got the name Santa Claus from St. Nick and why he comes on his own day in Europe, but intrudes on Christ's day in the U.S. Turns out that Santa Claus comes from the Dutch name for Nicholas: Klaas. Problem 1 solved. Problem 2: because gifts are given by family members on Christmas-- or Christmas Eve, rather-- and because St. Nick brings gifts too, maybe it was just easier to combine the two days in the minds of some Americans. This is just pure speculation. I prefer the way they do it here, so that the massive consumerism which surrounds Christmas is dampened a little, and no one thinks the day is about some fat, old man, but they know it's about the Christ-child. (However, some of the teachers at my school told me this week told me that there is a notion creeping in that Baby Jesus, clad in a white fur-lined red cap, brings the presents to put under the tree for the Christmas Eve celebration. I'm left wondering which problem is worse).

Because St. Nicholas Day is celebrated here, we had a party for children and parents at the parish hall today with all kinds of fun. One of the features of the party was yours truly playing the role of Santa Claus (not Nicholas). Here there is actually the notion of Santa and Nicholas being different people, and Santa is apparently always portrayed as a foreigner, so I fit the bill. I got to say "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas" and a few lame phrases in Czech to the crowd of people and then hand out candy to the kids after making them "earn" it by singing some English songs for me. At the end of the party the "real" Nicholas came (one of the men from the congregation dressed in the real Nicholas costume: priestly garments) and he and I had our picture taken with all of the children who wanted (or some whose parents wanted: there was more than one young child who, within a yard of the two of us started backing away with fear and tears in their eyes).

Happy Child

Unhappy Child

It was a lot of fun for me to get fat for the party (I had seven towels under my clothes, front and back). When it was all over and I was chatting about it with Karin, telling her how funny it was to have all the towels under my clothes and be so BIG, she said her only thought was that I would be beautiful pregnant. Thanks? Even with the beard?

Photo-op with Rudolph before meeting the kids. We look GOOD.

So, a Happy St. Nicholas Day to you all! May we remember the blessed Saint Nicholas on his day and worship the Holy Child only on His...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Errands, Chores, Odds and Ends

Today was a day of doing the things I had put off all week. There are some that I have success-fully left incomplete today too, like baking pumpkin pie. And dusting my room. And writing my Christmas cards (they have to be done within two weeks, and I can't work on them during the week...) However, I did get the bathroom clean, the floor vacuumed, the really dirty window washed, my newsletter written, and a little thrift shopping conquered (winter slippers, two long-sleeved tees and a pull-over fleece for $16. Awesome). I also spent a good portion of the day in the kitchen, making chicken salad and, my favorite, hamburger lentil soup. At this rate I won't have to cook again until Christmas (it's a LOT of soup).

Last weekend I spent the weekend in Vienna with Stephanie from Poland, the other Ashley from the Czech Republic, and Rachel and Sarah from Hungary. What a great weekend. It was so cold and it snowed for a good part of Saturday. What a BEAUTIFUL city. We spent a lot of time at the Christmas markets, at St. Stephen's cathedral (wow!), at some of the Hapsburgs' buildings. We attended an English-language church on Sunday, but we were NOT impressed by the pastor, who preached about Americans, Christians, and Michael Jordan among other things, but only managed to say "Jesus" 3 times in his 16 minute sermon. Suffice it to say, listening to Issues Etc. has spoiled me for bad preaching. The man turned the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats into: "It's the little things in life that count in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Yeah, the pastor actually SAID that).

I was privileged to be invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday with an American pastor, his Polish wife, their son, and a number of other guests composed of Polish wives with North American husbands, a Czech couple (missionaries to Ukraine), my flatmate, and Steph and Ashley. It was a delightful evening and a very authentic Thanksgiving dinner.

That same day I picked up my Christmas tree at Stephanie's Thrift Store (what we've dubbed the pile of junk that has accumulated over the last decade of LCMS volunteers living in her flat in Poland).

All week I told my students about Thanksgiving (every class knew there was turkey, but not much else about the day) and made them write or speak about what in their lives they are thankful for. The 8th grade was very heartening for me. Usually that's my least favorite class, but they were so GOOD, and almost every one of them wrote about being thankful for their salvation for one of their 5 sentences. It surprised me and made me so glad. I just hope they didn't write that because they thought it would make me happy. After all, I did teach them the phrasal verb "to suck up" last week.

On Thanksgiving Day I skyped with my family a little before the Effken family dinner. After they left to eat, I made a paper chain with which to decorate my tree while I watched "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." I was disappointed, actually. Not that great of a movie, in spite of Sandra Bullock and James Garner.

Well, I suppose its off with me to cut up some fruit to dry for the tree. This year I don't want to buy any fancy decorations for Christmas, since I won't be able to keep them for long, I'm home-making all of them. I made the paper chain already, and my other plans include thinly slicing assorted citrus fruits and drying them on my radiator to hang from the tree, AND making a popcorn string. It'll be a great throwback to my girlhood. I can't wait to see what it'll look like. I'll be sure to post pictures when it's all said and done (in a couple weeks... I don't want to skip Advent to start celebrating Christmas).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gates of Splendor

On Monday I finished reading Elisabeth Elliot's 1956 book "Through Gates of Splendor" about the the lives, work, and deaths of the men of Operation Auca in the Ecuadorian rain forest in the early half of the 1950s. I had so been looking forward to, having missionary zeal myself, reading the exciting account of these men and their work for the Lord. It was a quite good book, no doubt, and did not disappoint me in my thirst to learn from a first-hand source about what was going on with them in their mission service (the book is mostly comprised of excerpts from the diaries and letters of the men and their wives during their time in Ecuador). Part of me expected to feel even more guilty calling myself a missionary when I am in no danger of my life and feel that I don't share Christ often enough with enough people (I'm sure that I conveyed my misery and desperation at being a "bad missionary" in one of my former posts... not sure which one).

I learned not a few things about these martyrs, but also about myself. I was actually a little surprised to see "decision theology" crop up in the book at a few places. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but the fact that I've been steeping myself ever more in the Word and in Lutheran doctrine has made this kind of "making a decision for Christ" stuff ever more foreign and unattractive in my eyes. As a Lutheran, I don't believe there is any such thing as a person being able to choose Christ, to condescend to agree with the Creator of the Universe to accept salvation, as though before one had turned up his nose at it. No. A person is given faith in Christ in the same way that the corpse of Lazarus was given life again by his Savior and Friend, Jesus: "Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'" (John 11:43). Did Lazarus reflect on this and say, "Well, I guess I'll do what He says."? NO. Just as He did at Creation, God spoke and IT WAS as He said. Enough about that.

One of the most gripping and fascinating parts for me was the thoughts and concerns of one of the men, Roger Youderian, who may almost have missed His calling to martyrdom: at the time he was invited by the other men to join Operation Auca, he was contemplating failure as a missionary and a return home to the States. He wrote in his diary: "About ready to call it quits. The reason: Failure to measure up as a missionary and get next to the people. The cause of Christ in the Jivaria will not suffer for our having been there, but I must be honest and confess that it has not been helped." (p. 152) He felt like an utter failure as a missionary, like he was wasting the Lord's time and his supporters' money through his failings. If he could only have known.

As Operation Auca was getting underway, and the men began making plans for transitioning from simply making daily drops of gifts from their airplane to setting up a location on the ground where they hoped to meet with the fierce Auca, the wives talked about the fact that these plans could mean loss of life for their husbands. Elliot writes:

"It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No. Their letters and journal make it abundantly clear that these men did not go out as some men go out to shoot a lion or climb a mountain. their compulsion was from a different source. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upom Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed... 'Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature' was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant." (p. 175)

Another precious gem in the book is from Jim Elliot's diary (this man was an incredible writer and thinker... they all were): "Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him. Mayhap in mercy He shall give me a host of children that I may lead them through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose finger ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes-- ah then, not stars nor children shall matter, only Himself. O Jesus, Master and Center and End of all, how long before that Glory is thing which has so long waited Thee? Now there is not hgouth of Thee among men; then there shall be thougth for nothing else. Now other men are praised; then none shall care for any other's merits. Hasten, hasten, Glory of Heaven, take Thy crown, subdue Thy Kingdom, enthrall Thy creatures." (255-6)

About the reaction of the world to the death of these men: "In a civilization where, in order to be sure of their manhood, men must box, lift weights, play football, jog, rappel or hang-glide, it was startling to realize that there was such a thing as spiritual commitment as robust, as total, and perhaps more demanding than the most fanatical commitment to physical fitness. It was a shock to learn that anybody cared that much about anything, especially if it was invisible." (268)

And finally, brilliant words from the pen of the fabulous Mrs. Elliot: "It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God's and the call is God's and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package-- our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses. The God who could take a murderer like Moses and an adulterer like David and a traitor like Peter and make of them strong servants of His is a God who can also redeem savage Indians, using as the instruments of His peace a conglomeration of sinners who sometimes look like heros and sometimes like villains." (273)

So, for those of you who have stuck it through this long reading a blog post that is admittedly WAY too long for most people, and way longer than the recommended length for a blog post (I even get frustrated when blogs are too long), I hope that you have at least been given something to think about through the quotations that I've included. It was a marvelous book that refreshed in me a desire for the ends of the earth to know the Name of the Lord Jesus.

But don't just take MY word for it... read it yourself.

Pray that God would engender a passion in your heart and in mine that we might seek to spread His Truth with as much abandon as these men, with no concern for our personal comfort (to say nothing of concern for our earthly safety and lives, as these men sacrificed). Pray that He would give us daily and many opportunities to speak the Good News of salvation through Christ Jesus to our neighbors, and that He would make us faithful to take the opportunities He gives.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still Alive: Getting Caught up on the News

I can't believe so much time has gone by since the last time I blogged. I haven't been late for anything, but the rapid passage of time sure has surprised me.

For about two weeks I have nearly completely cut myself off from communication with the New World. I'm not sure what it is that I've been up to that I'm too busy to respond to people's emails, to write a new blog post, to get around to writing and sending my newsletter (if I don't have that written and emailed by Friday, I'm going to feel REALLY guilty). I did talk to my family on skype on Sunday, as per usual. I think the only other contact I had with America was to also talk to my friend Sandi on skype and reassure my friend Elise that I was still living, in spite of the fact that she hadn't heard from me since she couldn't remember when...

To me this indicates that it's well past time to give an accounting of my time (well or not) spent. Of course the majority of my time and thoughts and energy has gone into teaching and working on class prep, trying to think of interesting things for my students to learn/talk about in English. I've spent a lot of time corresponding with the other LCMS Eurasia girls trying to get a weekend getaway for all of us planned (looks like that should come together quite nicely, if briefly, this weekend).

The other Ashley arrived in Cesky Tesin on Monday, so I went to see her during the day on Tuesday. I had a brass rehearsal last week (we started practicing Christmas music already three weeks ago!) and for the Friday afternoon Book of Concord meeting, Ashley and I went to see Stephanie. We managed to not get any reading done, but rather the we two Ashleys did some shopping in Stephanie's foyer. She'd had a three day fall break at the beginning of the week, and had had a chance to sort out even MORE junk that she didn't want to keep in the apartment. In this case, one woman's trash turned out to be TWO women's treasure. I couldn't lift all the stuff that I wanted to bring home with me, so I will be doing some more shopping in Stephanie's thrift store as soon as I get the chance.

This past weekend was also the fall conference for the youth of the SCEAV (Silesian Lutheran Church) which Ashley and I attended. That was Friday evening and most of Saturday for me.

Sunday was a blessed day of rest for me! I had no lunch invitations from anyone, and so I had the luxury of trying to make something tasty and new for myself for my Sunday Dinner (I made something, and sure made a lot of it, although I am not sure what to make of it...). I also spent some time reading a BOOK, something that I have been rarely doing lately, but am always longing to do. In the afternoon at Biblicke hodina (Bible hour), I learned that Pastor Klus' youngest child-- two-year-old Daniela-- had fallen off the toy slide in the children's Sunday school room and had to be taken to the emergency room (the CT scan showed nothing major, and she and mom should be home from the hospital this afternoon). That evening I had dinner with Pastor Kadlubiec, his wife, and one of the teachers from my school and her family. They had come to sing at Bible hour and they did a marvelous job.

Monday was the 19 year anniversary of the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Because of the holiday, there was no school and I slept all the way until 8:00! Yes, indeed: the sun was actually UP when I woke up yesterday! Hard to believe, I know. I didn't get out of bed until 10:00, but rather spent those two hours finishing "Through Gates of Splendor" about Jim Elliot and the rest of the missionary men killed in "Operation Auca" in the jungles of Ecuador in January 1956. After that, I did a tiny bit of cleaning (another thing I'd been neglecting for at least two weeks... yuck) and got ready for the day.

I'd received an invitation to lunch with the Danys family, and so at noon Daniel picked me up and we went. It was a very delightful afternoon. There is such a dedication to and a love for learning in their family. Daniel and his wife, Jana both speak English quite fluently and they are working on teaching their two sons the language as well. Kuba, their oldest, is a brilliant second grader who likes to spend his vacation time in museums! Filip is about kindergarten age, and talks a blue streak. It was wonderful, and would have been even more wonderful if I could have understood more than 15% of what he was saying. Then of course there is beautiful little Natalka, their 6 month old daughter. On the day of her baptism, I had been honored to be a guest at their home and to share with the extended family the joy of their little girl being adopted into God's family. Wonderful. Yesterday we talked extensively about travel and language learning and also played a full game of Phase 10 (miracle that I won... Kuba was on a role for most of the game).

When I came home I finally had the chance to speak to Pastor Klus and ask him about his little girl and when she would be home. I spent the rest of the late afternoon/ early evening chatting with him, his father-in-law, Bishop Pietak, and Dale Feenstrom, a visiting American pastor. It was great to get to "talk church" with them and learn how things have changed here for the Church since the time of communism. Very interesting stuff.

Today: I hope that Sarka will be able to come for our weekly prayer meeting tonight. It may not be possible, as she and Daniela are only supposed to come back from the hospital this afternoon, and she may need a rest.
This evening are my conversation classes, and I'm praying for amazing things, based on how the classes went last week. I really owe a whole post to discuss Adult Conversation Nov. 11. Hopefully I'll get to that today too. Hmm. I've got a lot to do.

Tomorrow: Follow-up appointment with the dermatologist to check on my Pityriasis rosea. I've had more interesting "conditions" here than I've had at any other one time in my life, I'm sure. This means that tomorrow should be pretty restful as Monika has told me I should take the day off for the appointment. Maybe I'll finish up these loose ends tomorrow during my free time.

I suppose that will do it for the Ashley-centered update. I hope that'll be the last one... John 3:30

Please pray for my students, especially those who don't yet have faith in Christ's atoning work for the forgiveness of their sins. Pray that Daniela will fully recover from this scary injury and will suffer no long-term damage. Pray that Chris will find a new job. Pray that Tyler will fully recover from his car crash. Pray that Christ will give me direction as whether I should remain here another year or return to the States.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thoughts about Life (or Death)

What will happen to the American culture of death, now that we know tho the next president is going to be? The American people in the last few months have let their concerns over their bank accounts, stock portfolios, and gas prices overtake the really more urgent need to stop murdering unborn children. Actually, things like gas prices and wars and personal convenience have taken precedent over the lives of a million children in the US every year (legally) since 1973. We're getting close to 36 years of legalized abortion on demand in the US, and it seems that people are growing more and more complacent about it. This is a bad thing.

I was just listening this morning to an older (Oct. 15) broadcast of Issues, Etc. in which Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto, born in Hitler's Germany, talked about the collective shame of the German people because of the Holocaust. The interesting thing is that Hitler was elected in a landslide because he was a very engaging, inspiring speaker who made promises to the German people to fix their ravaged economy after the effects of the Great Depression. This was in spite of the fact that his plans for the extermination of the Jews and the gypsies were known (Mein Kampf was published in 1925, Hitler was elected in 1934).

Now, I'm not saying that Barack Obama is Hitler, but I'm saying there are some parallels here. The difference is that Obama isn't creating the Holocaust, he's inheriting it. But from his voting record and answers to questions about abortion during his campaign, it doesn't look like he's going to make any moves to stop this American Holocaust, one which is, quite honestly, MORE atrocious than the one of the 30s and 40s here in Europe.

How many people did Nazi Germany kill? Well, 6 million Jews, and between 3 and 5 million others. How many people has Roe v. Wade America killed? Just over a million every year since 1973. That puts us at more than 35 million killed. I believe that America should be ashamed for being so selfish, being more concerned over $4 gas and rescuing people from their debts-- in a culture that CONSTANTLY spends more money than it has-- than for the life of the pre-born. Why do we allow life to be graded on a curve? Why is it that a person who has just finished gestating has rights (i.e. LIFE) that he or she didn't have just minutes, days, or weeks before? WHAT ARE WE THINKING?!

I hope that, as President of the United States, deciding when life begins will no longer be above Obama's pay-grade.

Please pray for President-Elect Obama and for the USA.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." (Romans 13:1-2)

"We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them." (Explanation of the 4th Commandment from Luther's Small Catechism)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, sola scriptura

I like that Martin Luther decided to post his discussion points on Halloween. It lets Lutherans like me do stuff like this:

Recently found a great hymn for the Reformation. Reformation Day was observed in Lutheran-- and other Protestant-- churches around the world this past Sunday. I suppose it was celebrated, or at least mentioned, in the church here in Trinec. I don't know about this, however, because I had been invited by a friend to visit her church (nothing took place there that could have been mistaken by anyone as Lutheran...). Anyway, here it is:

Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

What God di in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on ev'ry hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our guilt was e'er increasing.
None can remove sin's poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart--
So deep is our corruption.

Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.

Let me not doubt, but truly see
Your Word cannot be broken;
Your call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood have You spoken.
Baptized into Your precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes us conscience-stricken;
But then the Gospel enters in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by His grace;
All glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav'n above,
You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow. (LSB 555)

I pray, dear reader, that this coming Reformation Day, you would be assured by the true Word of God that your salvation is in Christ alone, by grace through faith alone, and that it depends not on any deeds of your own. (See Ephesians 2:8-9)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Little Joys

Today was a day of so much joy for me. The joy actually began about 24 hours ago when I had a 90 minute "phone" call on Skype with my dad, followed by another one of similar length with my precious best friend from high school. I hadn't heard the sound of her voice in probably 6 weeks, so this was delightful to me.

One of the first things of my (always too early at 6:00 AM) morning was the discovery upon checking my email that God worked a miracle in the clutch, as I'd been hoping and praying for, for my friend Emily. Her last day for raising support for her internship with Cru was Wednesday, and I had an email from her saying that her support percentage was high enough that she can finally stop spending every waking minute raising support and she can FINALLY get on campus at UVA. WOOO!!!!

Then, I had a teaching highlight. This was completely unexpected. Thursdays are my longest (and admittedly least favorite) days. But the 6th graders made me so happy: after I had finished teaching them this little song about the seasons-- to the tune of Frere Jacques-- and was getting ready to sit down and let the "real" teacher take over the class, one of the boys said "jeste jedno." This phrase is Czech for "again." I couldn't believe it. I asked if they wanted to sing again, and all the little heads in the room began bobbing up and down. So, we sang it again, and when I sat down and the other teacher took over, I did a little, internal happy-dance. Wow. And, the eighth graders weren't as bad as usual, so that was good.

When I got home, completely exhausted from a full day of teaching, a package was waiting for me outside the door to my flat. It was from home. It was mostly books that I had ordered on the internet for myself and had shipped to the house, but when Mom and Dad packed the box to send to me, they included strawberry-flavored Twizzlers, Starbursts and Gardetto's snack mix (my FAVORITE!!!). I was SO happy, I forgot that it was a Thursday and that I was supposed to be tired and miserable. :P

When my flatmate got home, she had good news: her sister gave birth to a baby, Rebeka, this afternoon. Yay! AND she shared with me the good news that her religion classes (not required for the students) at the high schools in town are going so well. At one of the schools, so many kids signed up that they had to split into 3 classes because they couldn't all fit in the room together. She also told me that in her class today, when the hour was over, the students wanted more, and were even asking if they could have class more than one day a week! Praise the Lord!

I will pray that your day, dear reader, will be filled with as many little joys as mine was, and that God will open your eyes to see the blessings that He showers you with every day.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Yesterday (Sunday) morning I was invited to go on a day-trip to Auschwitz and Krakow with our building manager and a group of pastors from Korea who are visiting this area for 10 days. I got invited because the building manager speaks no English or Korean, and because the pastors speak no Czech or Polish, and because none of the bi-lingual members of our church were available. Basically I was the "translator." Bizarre. I've been here for 5 months and my ability to express myself in Czech is half that of my pastor's toddler daughter's ability. But she still doesn't speak English ;)

So we left on our trip around noon. It took us about two and a half or three hours to get to Auschwitz because we stopped for lunch in Bielsko-Biala at McDonald's (only the third Mickey D's I've even SEEN since I've been here... nice that it's so rare).

My impressions of Auschwitz I: Horrible. There were many barracks there, which had been "home" to the thousands of prisoners, and while some of them were under renovation or reconstruction, the majority of them were dedicated to housing a display about different aspects of the camp and the history of the war. One was for the confiscated possessions of the prisoners (mountains of shoes, suitcases, brushes, combs, wash basins and pitchers, eyeglasses, and implements such as crutches, back braces, and wooden legs; Jewish prayer shawls displayed hanging from rods, rather than in a heap like the aforementioned items; a few items of children's belongings including a doll and shoes for a toddler). This one, and the one depicting the physical toll that the camp took on the prisoners (photos of nude, skeleton women at the time of the liberation of the camp, listing that they had shriveled from around 165 lbs at internment to 55 lbs at the time of the taking of the photograph), are the two that had the heaviest impact on me. The Jewish barracks also had a huge emotional impact. We walked through the gas chamber and the crematorium, where they incinerated thousands upon thousands of people PER DAY.

My impressions of Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau, a mere 2 miles from A. I): Huge. I'm afraid it will seem irreverent or ghastly for me to admit, but Birkenau seemed almost elegant, giving me the same sensation as when something rancid also has a sweet tinge to it's odor. Not that there is ANYTHING sweet about what happened in Birkenau, but it's physical appearance now, 63 years after it closed has a ghastly beauty to it. It was so symmetrical. So meticulous. And that's a part of the horror of it. The Nazis were so meticulous in their extermination of people: Jews, the sick, homosexuals, the weak, children, criminals-- guilty or innocent of real or imagined crimes... From the entrance building to the camp to the back of the camp where the incinerator was located (it was about 95% demolished... the destruction that remains is a powerful tribute to the destruction that occurred when it was in use) was at the very least half a mile, maybe even a mile (I'm not great at estimating these distances). I have no idea how far it was from side to side, but it was wider than it was long, and filled with these barracks designed to house 52 horses. When the camp was occupied, each barracks housed 400 people.

Auschwitz I overwhelms with words and images and the presence of a plaza of execution and a prison basement in one building where many prisoners were sentenced to death by starvation or to pass nights in a row in "standing cells" where they would wait out the night only to work 11 or 12 hours the next day.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau overwhelms with it's sheer size. There are very few placards with words or images on them. It's just a huge, empty, outdoor prison, where the Nazis had dismantled many of the buildings in an effort to cover up what had happened there. Of those buildings, the wood was taken away, but the two chimneys from each of the barracks stands as a silent monument to history.

A final thought: As I wandered through these two death camps, I was thinking that no matter how horrible and awful the atrocities committed in Auschwitz were, no matter the evil that the Nazis did there, there is something that I've done that's worse.

I am guilty of killing the Author of Life and nailing Him to a tree just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

Auschwitz was not the most horrible thing to ever occur in human history.

The Cross of Calvary was.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whirlwind Week

This week was my busiest week of the school year to date. I knew it would be chock-full of activities, and so I wasn't surprised when I had basically no down-time for the first four days of the school week.

On Monday I went to Navsi, a neighboring village, where for a few weeks now, the pastor of the SCEAV (the local Lutheran denomination) church in town and I have been leading a Christian English Club for the junior high aged kids at the primary school. Because it was the first Monday of the month, I went not only for the club, but to also teach two classes. That evening I had my first class in the "new season" of my Anglictinu s Ashley (English with Ashley) classes. When I arrived in the classroom, I was overwhelmed as nearly 30 pairs of eyes were looking at me, waiting for me to begin. Because there were so many, and the class was designed for 2 hours, we decided to break the class in half and do only an hour for each half so that there would be fewer students and less for them to remember from week to week.

Tuesday was the first day that I was to be in the 1st and 2nd grade classrooms at the school here in Trinec. I had planned to do a memory game with the second graders, but due to a communications error, I showed up for that class during the second hour when the class was during the first hour. Oops. In the first grade classroom, the director of the school and I taught using a song about the "Happy House": roof, wall, door, window, floor, and chimney. Cute. That evening I had high school and adult conversation at the church. My chosen topic for the day, because I'm going alphabetically through my conversation topics, was "Arguing." I thought that this would be a wonderful, fun topic with lots of participation. Boy, was I wrong. Arguing, not even in the sense of defending one's position with facts, was not regarded as important among my students. It was much more important to avoid making any waves. I tried to bait the conversation by posing a situation about having a friend inviting them to go shoplift at Tesco (like Wal*mart), asking whether that would be a situation in which they might argue. The answer: a lot of hemming and hawing. This makes me wonder about the state of conviction about the Truth among the believers here. But I digress.

Wednesday was 3rd, 4th, and 6th (a) grades at school. It's getting easier, but it's still hard to stand in front of a group of children and try to teach them something. Everyone says that just giving them the opportunity to hear and be around a native speaker will help these kids a lot. I hope so. That evening was my intermediate class at the church. Thinking about this class was the most nerve-racking of the evening classes for me, because it was the new one. And because I have no curriculum for it. For the beginners I have a curriculum, for the conversation students, I already have a plan worked up for the lessons. But the intermediate? Would they even understand me? It went really well. I'm starting from a basic level: introductions/getting to know you activity, classroom vocabulary, past simple and present simple verb tenses (review) and a little reading: a simplified telling of the Fall with LOTS of our "verb tenses of the week" included. The students gave me good feedback, and by the end of the two hours, I began to think that maybe it would become my favorite class. We'll see.

Thursday: the longest day every week. I have 5th and 6th (b) grade regular English, and then conversation with the 8th and 9th grades. It's good. The eighth graders are the most difficult class for me because many of them don't want to be there, but they are required to be. If anyone has any ideas on how to involve and interest 13-year-olds, I'm more than willing to listen! After lunch, I teach the teachers at the school. They are so much fun and so eager. I really enjoy their class. By the time that class is over, around 3:30, I'm completely beat and have only 90 minutes before my Czech lesson begins. The best way to completely exhaust myself, I've found, is to teach all day on Thursday and then sit and try to think and listen in Czech for two hours in the evening. Wow. My brain wants to jump out of my skull and run away from me, screaming "No more!!!!!" by 7:00 on Thursdays.

Friday: awesome! I teach only 7th grade conversation during first hour, and then I'm done for the day. This week Stephanie and I met in the afternoon for our first Book of Concord reading group meeting. We went to a nearby cafe and talked and drank caffeine and read from the Formula of Concord and discussed our questions searching Scripture. It was great.

When I started writing this, it was late Saturday morning, and because I had been so busy during the week, not evening checking my email for four days, I was at a loss as to what to do with the free time. I had already gone for a run and even cleaned my bathroom, but was wondering what to do with myself. Strange to be so busy and then all of a sudden, not.

Prayer Requests:
-For my friend Emily, that she would receive the last bit of her support for being a Campus Crusade staff intern. Her deadline is 3 days away and she has a way to go, but we have a big God who is able to provide for all our needs.

-That God would use me as His mouthpiece to share the Gospel of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, especially in my evening classes and in the children's club on Mondays in Navsi where there are non-believers. These people, and all without faith in Christ, need to hear the Gospel because they are perishing in their sin.

-That I would improve as a teacher of English and a learner of Czech.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Image is Nothing, Thirst is Everything. Obey Your Thirst

This morning as I was getting dressed and ready for the day, going through the paces of my daily "beauty regimen", all of a sudden the old Sprite catch-phrase was floating through my head: "Image is nothing, thirst is everything. Obey your thirst." This was one of the stranger things to enter my thoughts in recent days. It wasn't a passing thought, either. It has been inside my head all day.

I haven't seen a Sprite commercial for... ages, and I haven't seen this particular one for years. More than that, I can't remember the last time I even saw, let alone drank, a Sprite. But this was in my head. Immediately after this popped into my head, I began to think about two different Bible verses:
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled." Matthew 5:6
Being woman, body image is very important to me. It baffles me why, when, and how exactly this became true of me. I wasn't raised to be so focused on and worried about my appearance. My parents raised me in such a way that beauty, while a good thing, was no where near the center of my focus. I was raised to be an independent, self-confident and capable woman, not relying on my appearance but my intellect and cognition.

This is why I am baffled over and over again why beauty and the whole physical appearance thing are so prominent in my thought life. I have been told that this is part of the way that women are generally wired, that this obsession with physical beauty is something that is almost always floating around in the back of our minds (or sometimes front and center and seemingly unavoidable and impossible to ignore). And most of the thoughts that surface concerning physical beauty, at least for me-- I don't pretend to speak for all women-- are ones of insufficiency and dissatisfaction. These thoughts of course lead toward a kind of uncomfortable consciousness about myself.

This consciousness is somehow inexplicably linked to a deep desire to be loved, and a doubt that if I don't live up to the impossible standard of beauty the culture sets, then I will not be loved. The desire to be the object of a real love is like a voracious, nearly unquenchable thirst. I know that if I were to seek in the world for that thirst to be quenched, my mouth and my soul would grow dustier and drier for the trying. So where does a girl go to have her thirst quenched from its very depths?
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David." Isaiah 55:1-3
But this morning, as I thought about Sprite, I was reminded that my appearance does not matter to the One who loves me the most. In fact, I was almost dancing as I thought about following my thirst to the source of the River of Life where I can drink freely and deeply. Rejoiced at the thought of being filled and brought to a blessed disinterest in my physique because all my attention would be not on my beauty, but caught breathlessly up by the beauty of the One who is the Beginning and the End.

"He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." Revelation 21:6-7
I pray God's blessings to all of you who read this post. May you "Obey Your Thirst" and be filled with the Living Water that is found alone in Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Nights In

It's almost 9:00 on a Friday night. I have just slowly (reluctantly) made my way back upstairs after the ending of our Mladez meeting (older youth group, comparable to a "college group" in the US), and have greeted a dark, empty apartment. This sets me to wondering what I would be doing if I was at home.

If I was living in the US, how would I be spending my Friday nights? Certainly not bemoaning my lack of activities on my blog! A year ago, during my final semester as a university student, I spent nearly every Friday night playing Husker Fight Songs and other pep tunes at Misty's restaurant in Havelock. Okay. I'm sure there were any number of Friday nights when I was at the U when I stayed in and did homework. There was one semester when I went to Navigators' meetings on Friday nights. I never did the bar scene; if you are surprised by that, then you don't know me at all. I know I spent a lot of time with friends, just hanging out in the dorms on Fridays. There was also a period of time when I would have spent the majority of my Friday evenings with a boyfriend (that may be a surprise, too). Of course in high school there were the football and basketball games to keep everyone occupied on Fridays.

And now?

I guess I could go to bed...

Other than the mladez meeting, Friday night is the same as any other for me. Catching up on my ever growing list of blogs which I am "following, " listening to back-broadcasts of Issues Etc. podcasts, and reading my Google News feed to find out what's going on in the world, in the States, and in the election campaigns. I could do some lesson planning for next week (that's the same thing as doing homework on Friday night. Blech!).

Maybe I'll go read my Bible and pray. After all, at our mladez meeting we talked about spiritual growth and how busy-ness often prevents us from dedicating time to God as we ought. I'm not busy now... maybe I should spend my Friday nights in with the Best Friend I will ever have.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gain the World, Lose Your Soul; Forsake the World, Gain Eternal Life

In the last two days I have finished reading two books. The first, Revolution in World Missions by K. P. Yohannan, was about modern Christian missions throughout India, China, and southeast Asian nations. The premise of the book is to persuade North American Christians to support native missionaries in these nations for several reasons. The book was very thought-provoking and has awoken me to the need for native evangelists to be helped by westerners in carrying the Gospel to their own people. The book made many assertions that I didn't necessarily agree with (and some that I did), but I was glad to examine my own assumptions on the basis of the challenges leveled against the way that I-- and western Christians in general-- seem to think about God's plan for missions and for bringing His Gospel to the nations.

The most welcome challenge to my way of thinking was the one which called attention to the affluent way in which so many of us live. The book powerfully showed how so many American Christians hold on so tightly to their possessions and their money, as though these things actually belonged to us, and as though God had given them to us for our own pleasure. The truth is that everything that we "have" is not ours, but a trust from God. He blesses us so that we may be a blessing. He gives good gifts to us so that we may serve our neighbors, not so that we can collect a mountain of worldly goods. The money we have is not ours to stockpile; we can't keep it anyway. We would do well to remember that we ought to store up our treasures in heaven and to give away our treasures in this life for the good of our neighbors, and especially the advancement of the Gospel. After all, what will please God more for us to do? Buy another new car or a bigger house or a more expensive, cutting edge electronic toy OR "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Mark 10:21) I am reminded of the parable of the Rich Fool (check out Luke 12:13-21).

The second book that I have just finished is The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The overall thesis of this book is the extremely set-apart life of the true disciple of Christ. The disciple of Christ, in responding to His call, gets up and leaves everything in his previous life completely behind to follow Christ. Bonhoeffer reminds his readers of the intensity and extremity of the Christian life. We have died to sin and to the world, living now only in and for Christ. This book, like Yohannan's, challenged my reliance on and attachment to my worldly comforts. I have to admit that usually this kind of challenge would make me uncomfortable, and I might even be tempted to turn on it with a deaf ear. But lately, some very deep part of me has been longing for this completely revolutionary, intense life in Christ. I don't want normal, I don't want easy, I don't want comfortable. I want to be challenged and to rely on Christ's provision for the strength to meet the challenge.

This post is another Reading Rainbow post: Don't just take my word for it, read it yourself-- especially the Bonhoeffer book.
"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15b)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away

This morning I had a wonderful, dual privilege. I played my trumpet at a wedding. I neither met nor spoke with either the bride or the groom, but I got to witness, along with many others, their union before God. The ceremony was brief-- a long 20 minutes-- with very little pomp and circumstance compared to the roughly 20 weddings in the US I've attended. Many things about the ceremony were very different from the way weddings are done in America, but that wasn't the thing on my mind as the marriage miracle unfolded as I looked on from the balcony.

What was on my mind was what marriage is to be a picture of. Many times in the New Testament, the relationship between Christ and the Church is described as the relationship between a groom and his bride. The thing that I think that many people, including me, miss about marriage is that Christ and the Church are the real thing, and that marriage between a man and a woman on earth is a type of that eternal Marriage. This is evident in how the relations between husband and wife are described in Ephesians 5. It says that wives are to submit to their husbands since the church submits to Christ. It says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and laid down His life for her. It does NOT say that the church submits to Christ because wives submit to their husbands, nor does it say that Christ laid down His life for the church because this is how husbands love their wives. That is absurd.

I am beginning to think that part of the reason that marriage is deteriorating among Christians at the same rate as it is deteriorating in the culture is that we have forgotten which marriage is the rule. When we look around at how human marriages are, we begin to let failing, selfish marriages be our standard, our measuring stick. But as Christians, the example, the rule for marriage is not the way other people are executing this covenant, but rather how Christ and His Bride carry out the Covenant. This is a much higher standard, and maybe in our disposable culture, it is "too hard" for people treat marriage the way the Christ does. Christ doesn't call His followers to ease, there is no where in His covenant with us an escape clause. Christ's marriage with the Church will NEVER end, no matter how many marital problems they have. No matter how unfaithful the Church is, no matter how many other lovers she runs after, this marriage never ends, it's for forever.

For the man and woman who wed this morning the marriage picture is now complete, they have been made one flesh. They have gone off to their wedding banquet with all of their guests to celebrate their feast. I hope and pray for them, and for all men and their brides, that their marriages will be in the image of the Christ and the Church. I pray that the brides will submit to their husbands as to Christ and that the husbands will love their wives as Christ, giving himself up for her, loving her as he loves himself.

Some day soon, the picture of marriage will be complete for the Church too. On that day, a trumpet-- one that doesn't sound anything like the brass instrument I play-- will sound and Christ will come to take His bride home to her wedding banquet. And then Christ and His church will enjoy union for the rest of eternity. Maranatha Jesus!

Please pray for marriage! Pray that Christians would return to a faithful, sober-minded understanding of this covenant, that they would treat marriage like the eternal covenant that it is. Pray that couples wouldn't see marriage as a way to "prove their love" for one another, but rather as a way to mutually serve the Lord, to serve and love one another, and to nurture children, should the Lord provide them.

Pray also for contentment and discernment for unmarried people. God calls some people to marriage and He calls others to singleness. Pray that He would give wisdom and discernment to single people, whether they should marry or embrace life-long celibacy.

Note: The photo I've included on this blog is not from today's wedding, but from my brother's wedding in December. I took no pictures during the wedding today.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back to School

Monday was the first day of school here. That's right, while America was enjoying its last day off with barbeques and other fun with get-togethers with friends, at the very least, a three-day weekend, we here in the Czech Republic were putting our noses to the grindstone. Okay, that is not be an accurate characterization of the first day of school here. We started our first day at 8:00 with an assembly in the school gym. All the students and some of the parents gathered to be welcomed, first by the president of the school, Bishop Piȩtak (the Bishop of the Silesian Church) and then by the director of the school, Mrs. Guňková. She also introduced all the teachers at the school. Then there was a very adorable little ceremony where all the new first graders were brought to the front and the ninth graders gave each of them a stuffed animal as a gift to welcome them to the school. The transfer students were also brought to the front, introduced, and welcomed. We had a few prayers, a few songs, and by 8:45 or 9:00 the assembly was dismissed, and the students all went to their classrooms. There they were notified of some of the rules and whatnot. The school was then pretty much empty of students by 9:30 as the tasks for the school day were over.

We had a teachers meeting at 10:00 and I finally learned some of the things that I will need to know about my responsibilities for this school year. I still don't feel like I know a lot, and I still don't know my schedule for the year, but I at least feel reassured. I didn't have to go to school on Tuesday or today, and probably not tomorrow either, as the schedule is still pretty fluid right now and things are just getting settled. By about next week, things for my schedule should be pretty settled. In addition to teaching 7-9th grade conversation, the teachers want me to teach them one day a week after school. They made noise that they would like it to be an English Bible Study. That's pretty sweet. At the preschool, one of the teachers would like me to come to her class for an hour one day a week. Another option for teaching, or more likely leading an after school English club, is open to me at a public school in Navsi, a neighboring town. In addition to all of that, I am still teaching my three evening classes here in Hutník (the name of the parish hall). I am looking forward to having a lot to do, so that I must use my time wisely for a change!

Last week, the final week of the summer, was our youth group retreat, with members of our youth group and some of their school friends. It was a wonderful week, and probably one of my favorite camps of the summer. Our discussion theme for the week was Love, Dating, and Marriage. This, I believe, was a wonderful topic to be discussing with the youth, and being a group leader, I was given an opportunity to speak from my own experiences, the good and the bad, in this area. Since we spent so much time talking about what real love was, we of course talked about the love of Christ and how all true love emulates Christ's love (for more information, see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). This was a great opportunity to share the Gospel, showing exactly what the extent of God's love looks like.

We didn't spend all of our time discussing love, however. We did a lot of playing. Some of the boys brought unicycles, and so many people learned to ride during the week. We tried to learn to play baseball and American football-- to almost no avail. That was actually one of my favorite parts of the week: watching kids who grew up without baseball trying to wrap their minds around the rules. I laughed a lot. We played capture the flag in the pitch dark forest one night, went on an early morning hike to watch the sun rise, spent all of one day at a swimming pool, had a massive scavenger hunt and a huge, impromptu water fight. It was wonderful. I learned to solve a Rubik's cube during the week as well (Look out world!).

God has been amazing me a lot lately. This morning I read Psalm 97 and was put in awe of what a glorious God we have.

Psalm 97:1-6:

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

The rest of this psalm is great too, but I thought that this first half was particularly wonderful. I love how God reveals Himself here, and throughout the rest of His Holy Word. The way God describes Himself puts me in so much awe; the thought of how much more awe we will experience when we see Him as He is, face to face, in heaven is too much for me to fathom. Wow. Alleluia.

Please pray that:
-the needs, such as visas and support, of the other new LCMS missionaries would be filled soon so they may get to God's work in their respective fields. Pray particularly for the missionaries heading to Panama & Japan (support) and Hungary & the Czech Republic (visas).
-the Christian students throughout this area and I would be salt and light in our schools, bearing witness to the Gospel and making new disciples of Christ.
-the Gospel would spread throughout the Czech Republic. There is SUCH need here for people to know God and to be saved!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Laugh till I Cry

This week was... a challenge. I was really anxious under the pressure of being an unworthy vessel for transporting to children the greatest Good News man has ever known. Besides the fact that I don't have a ton of experience as an engaging story teller for children, I was also aware of the fact of the importance that Christ puts on giving the Gospel to the young: "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin" (Luke 17:2). In fact, today before I went to our last morning of camp, I was reminded of the importance of children to Christ in my Portals of Prayer devotion. It was from Mark 10:13-16. Jesus' words (v.14b -15) are: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." I really zeroed in on the "do not hinder them" portion of the passage. I wonder how often well-intentioned people end up hindering faith when they falsely believe that they are trying to foster it. I just pray that I was under no delusions: when I believed I was bearing witness to Christ that I actually was doing so.

It has been a difficult week in terms of the loneliness factor again. Strange that I have the capacity to feel lonely when I'm so surrounded by people. Tonight, because of the loneliness, I finally went to my "survival kit" of sorts, provided to me by the other new LCMS missionaries. The last night of our orientation, Thursday, June 26, they threw me a going away party complete with DQ ice cream cake and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Many of them also wrote me notes that I was supposed to read here when in need of encouragement. I can't believe that I made it this long before I read them. I'm so glad that I did. Their own words, as well as particularly encouraging verses they included in their notes, made me so happy. One of the girls from the Eurasia team had folded her note into an origami frog and even included a funny joke in her note. One member of the Japan team wrote his notes to me on the back of paper he had used for doodle paper during our classes, and finding his awesome sketch of a mouse and of a gerbil on his words of encouragement made me laugh. That laughter quickly proceeded to tears of thankfulness and praise to the Lord for giving me the encouragement of His Word through His gift of these friends. I can't believe how the Lord has blessed me.

Also through His Word, prayer, and the encouragement of wise people around me, God has caused the difficult anxiety about the approaching school year to dissipate. And how thankful I'm for that! He has brought me here and He will fill my every need with His providence.

How did I spend my time this week when I wasn't with the kids? I've spent a lot of time this week listening to podcasts of my favorite talk radio show, Issues Etc. It is "Christ-centered, Cross-focused Talk Radio" hosted by Todd Wilken, an LCMS pastor. If you haven't ever heard of it, check out their website: It has been wonderful to keep up with the news in the States and with all kinds of social, political, and religious issues from a solid, Bible-based perspective. I highly recommend it for people who are into real Christianity and podcasting (or listening to the radio online).

Prayer Requests:
-Please pray that God would continue to prepare me (and my students) for the upcoming school year. We go back on Monday the 1st!
-Pray that God would continue to remind me that He is and has provided everything that I need for life, health, and salvation.
-Pray that I would continue to have opportunities to share the Gospel with those around me, bearing witness to the Truth of Christ's once for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children's Camp in Cutlery Town

Last week I was the token American at a children's camp in a city about 60 miles from here. This children's camp was at Dětská Misie (Children's Mission) in Přibor. The name of this post actually comes from the meaning of the word Přibor: cutlery. I love the names of towns here...

The children's camp wasn't specifically an English camp, so I didn't have a LOT to do, but we did have three 40-minute English lessons which I led. It was wonderful to be with the children at this camp; I believe that my Czech vocabulary expanded quite a bit around these children who consistently forgot that I don't speak their language, and so they were always speaking to me in Czech, expecting me to understand. At times that was difficult and/or frustrating. More often, however, given the context of the activities we were engaged in, I could actually guess what the children were saying or asking, and I was occasionally capable of answering them appropriately out of my limited vocabulary. Another wonderful thing about this camp was the counselors at the camp. Most of them had very limited English vocabulary, but that didn't stop us from developing friendships based on our common faith in Christ, our willingness to struggle with our language barrier, and our ability to laugh with love at ourselves and one another. Because I didn't have a lot of actual English responsibilities and wasn't really able to interact with the children on a very deep level, I felt guilty being inactive while everyone was caring for the children. As a result of this, I made myself useful in the kitchen, loading and unloading the dishwasher, hand-washing other dishes a couple of times a day, helping to prepare food, tidying and cleaning in the kitchen, and cleaning up the dining room after meals as well. It was bizarre, but on Thursday evening as I was washing dishes and scalding my hands in the water, I had a realization that I was really very happy, that I couldn't imagine anything else (other than washing dishes) that I would rather be doing at that very moment. Weird.

This week we are having a children's English Camp here at the church hall in Třinec. I am helping to teach the advanced class of eight incredibly bright young boys (6-10 years). They have surpassed our expectations of them by learning in the first day all of the material that we had planned for the first two days. I am also leading the Bible story time of the camp. We are covering the Fall, the Flood, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Zacchaeus, and the Feeding of the 5,000. This is actually causing me great anxiety, as I realize that teaching or even being in front of a crowd of children between the ages of 4 and 10 is one of my greatest weak spots. I find it very intriguing that I have such difficulty in front of such young children, when I'm sure that a crowd of most any size, between the ages of 15 and 100 would cause no problems for me. I could handle that. More than not being geared toward this age group, I feel the weight of needing to faithfully proclaim the Gospel to these children. This may be the main source of my anxiety; I want so much to be found faithful to the Lord in this task.

Another thing on my mind: school starts in 12 days and I still don't know the details of my responsibilities for the year. I know that we've talked about me teaching conversation to the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. But I haven't had a chance yet to have a meeting with my school's director to nail down exactly what will be my tasks during the school year. This is a major concern for me.

Right now I'm reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's awesome. Bonhoeffer illustrates strongly the difference between God's real grace in Christ, which is costly, and cheap grace, the grace which people appropriate for themselves when they sin, but then say, "but I won't worry, Jesus has forgiven me for that, so I don't have to be too serious about radically putting that sin away (i.e. cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye if it causes me to sin-- Matt. 5:29-30). He expounds his thesis using the whole of the Sermon on the Mount. I highly recommend it.

Prayer Requests:
Please pray that I would have peace about teaching and leading Bible stories at Children's English Camp this week and that I would have peace about teaching this fall. Pray that God would do away with my fears and my worries of inadequacy in these things and that He would lead me to rely on Him even more desperately. Pray that I would spend more time reading God's Word and talking to Him in prayer, lifting up to Him all my concerns. Pray that He would give me motivation to use my time wisely for Him and for serving those around me.

"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." -Philippians 2:12b-13

Trivia Factoid:
Přibor, Cutleryville, was the birthplace of Sigmund Freud, for those who are interested. His family lived there until he was 3, when they moved to Austria. He is kind of a big deal to that town, as is evident in the Freud Inn, the Freud bust in a little green spot near to the town square, his preserved boyhood home (complete with psychologist's couch on the front lawn), and the Freud related items that are available for purchase in many of the shops on the town square.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Children's Camp and Other Stuff

Today I'm continuing my theme of playing catch up on my blogs. Last week I started the week in recovery mode from XcamP. Because it was such a long week and because I had gotten sick, I really treasured the chance to have a few days to myself to relax and recover before moving on to the next thing. On Sunday I was blessed with an invitation to have Sunday dinner with the Samiec family. Two of the children in this family and I have become friends throughout the course of this summer, and I was excited to have the chance to meet their parents and spend the afternoon with them. Not only did I get to come over for dinner, but I even got to help in the preparation a little. Maybe eventually the women here will collectively teach this "kitchen incompetent" how to cook.

After a relaxing and fairly uneventful Monday and Tuesday (except for teaching my three English classes), I went on Wednesday to Budišov nad Budišovkou to join the last two days of our church's English camp. I took the train (my first Czech train ride!) from Třinec to Karvína by myself. In Karvína, I met with a doctor who is so renowned here that everyone simply calls him by his first name, Bendito. I actually have no idea what his last name is. He is originally from Angola, but he moved to the Czech Republic 25 years ago to attend University in Brno. He's lived here longer than he lived in his home country. Anyway, he and his wife, wonderful people both, picked me up at the train station and the three of us drove the rest of the way to Budišov. It was a very pleasant ride. Bendito and I spoke with each other in English, but more of our conversation was in Spanish as his Spanish is stronger than his English. At one point, he said a sentence to me that was trilingual. That's right, in one sentence he switched between Czech, English and Spanish. And the funny thing was, I understood him! I tried my Czech on his wife, and I have to admit that it was pitiful. But they were both patient with me, and they taught me a few new words on the way to the camp. The reason that Bendito and his wife were going to the Children's camp was that every evening, a non-Czech had been invited to speak about his or her home country. Wednesday was Bendito's appointed night, and once we arrived and the time came for him to speak, he gave a presentation about the continent of Africa with the most beautiful slide show that I've ever seen. When he was done speaking, I was dying to go to Africa and see EVERYTHING. When Bendito was finished speaking, he and his wife went home, and I stayed at the camp until Friday when it ended.

On Thursday, the entire camp went for a six hour trip to the top of the mountain above Budišov. On the way there, I was blessed to walk with so many children who wanted to be my friend and who wanted to teach me Czech. I learned more words and phrases on the way to the top of that mountain than I have learned in any other single WEEK that I've been here. More than that, I developed a couple friendships with some wonderful children from my congregation. I also had the first time in my life to pick blueberries. Parts of the mountains here are carpeted with blueberry plants under the trees, and by the end of the afternoon, my hands and my mouth were purple. It was wonderful. At the top of the mountain, there was a meteorological station where we spent about an hour learning about the machinery and equipment for weather prediction.

That evening it was my turn to talk about my home. I had been told that I should talk about Cowboys and Indians because children in the Czech Republic love the American Old West. So, I made a presentation about Plains Indians and Cowboys. It went over so well with the children that the next morning, when they were asked what their favorite part of the camp was, many of them said "Ashley!" I have a sneaking suspicion that they said that because it was the most recent event, and therefore the thing they remembered the best, but who am I to say? At any rate, the two days when I was at our children's camp were two of the best days of the last month. Seriously. It was wonderful.

The only other really noteworthy things that I have done since Children's camp include hiking up Javorovy (a local popular "mountain" hiking/ biking/ parasailing location) on Sunday with two brothers from the church. It was one of the most exhausting and fun things I've done in a long time. After we reached the summit and rested for a little while, we took the opportunity to run down the face of the mountain. That's right. We ran down the treeless parasailing strip from the summit to about 2/3 of the way down. From there we got onto a significantly less steep trail and jogged for about 10 minutes back to their home. What a rush. Another 'noteworthy' activity was a solo cycling excursion where I took my lunch and a book and went to the forest for an afternoon of reading, relaxing, and berry picking. I came home with about a half a pound of blackberries with a few raspberries and blueberries in the mix, and not a few scratches on my arms and legs. These bushes are vicious!

In other news, I just finished reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I highly recommend it, especially the final chapter, "Charity." Lewis always amazes me, at his depth of insight, and his incredible ability to draw such incredible, often funny, analogies. Also, if you haven't read another wonderful book by Lewis: The Great Divorce-- and you probably haven't-- DO. I am really excited about that book. In it he does an incredible job of painting a picture of how small and forgettable and impermanent is everything that we live for here in light of the bigness and unforgettability and permanence of heaven. It's awesome. While I'm on the Lewis bandwagon, I also highly recommend The Screwtape Letters, but enough of the book review.

One of the joys which I've recently enjoyed is devouring an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. Paul's letters are particularly conducive to this and every time I have finished one lately, I wonder what it is exactly that keeps me from doing this every day. This amazing letter is my spiritual daily bread, the Word from God's mouth by which a man lives. Why do we not read His Word with hunger? Because it is our daily bread, when we don't read it on a daily basis, we are spiritually starving ourselves as Christians. We often convince ourselves that we don't need to read it because it is "boring." But God's Word is ANYTHING but boring. Honestly. As they used to say on Reading Rainbow: "But don't just take MY word for it, read it yourself!"

Prayer Requests:

-Please pray for our upcoming children's English Camp (Aug. 18-22):
*1) Story-telling to children of 5-8 years is one of my decided weaknesses-- pray that God would be strong in my weakness!
*2) Five of our 20 registered children are from families that are not from our church-- pray that we would faithfully proclaim God's Word, that these children would be receptive to it, that He would create faith in their little hearts based on our faithful witness.

-Please pray for the upcoming school year, that my students would be ready and willing to learn English, and that I would be ready and willing to teach!

-Please pray for my friend Stephanie Rosburg, LCMS missionary in Poland. She's taking an intensive Polish course and has basically no time to relax, even though she just returned from a month in the US. Pray also that she would be prepared as the beginning of a new school year quickly approaches.

-Pray for the other new LCMS Eurasia team members, that they would get their visas in time to be in their fields for the beginning of the school year (Sept. 1). Also, pray for the new LCMS missionaries preparing to go around the world. Many of them are behind where they would like to be on their support raising, and their departure dates are quickly approaching.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


XcamP was awesome. Really. It was an incredible time of meeting new people, learning about God's plan of deliverance, and having a lot of fun doing it. Everyone began to arrive on the grounds of the Karmel retreat center in Smilovice on Saturday afternoon. All of the kids in attendance were assigned to discussion groups based on age, but at registration, they had the option to switch to my English discussion group. The groups were to meet in the morning and evening every day throughout the camp. At our first group meeting that evening, we spent a little time getting to know one another and talking about our first topic, the text of Joshua 24:15, where Joshua admonishes the people of Israel, now that they've been able to settle in the Promised Land, to follow the Lord, rather than turning aside to follow the gods of the people around them. This first group meeting didn't go too well. Many of the kids who signed up to be in my group weren't really prepared to have a discussion about the Bible in English. Needless to say, once this first meeting was over, I was highly discouraged and praying like mad that God would help me to do things in that group His way, because my plan (which had included some real in-depth discussion of how the Exodus foreshadowed the salvation that we have in Christ) certainly didn't look like it was going to work at all.

Sunday morning, we had a leaders meeting to talk about the goal of our groups and how the group break-down was to help keep the kids involved in all the activities of the camp, to give them each a built-in community so that they wouldn't be alone and so they would have an outlet to talk about whatever they needed to. After that meeting, we broke up into our groups again and my group gave it another try. It was again a tough time. I was so thankful for Miriam, my "assistant," a wonderful Christian young woman who spent a little more than a year in England, and who was able to do some translating when it was necessary. Following group time, we went to breakfast, and then the pastors from all over Silesia came out to lead Sunday morning worship for us in the big tent at the camp. This was a wonderful experience.

The best part of our Sunday morning worship was celebrating the sacrament together. For me it was a particular blessing for me. When the pastor with the Cup came to me, he said "the blood of Christ for you" in English to me. This was the first time I'd heard these words in English in the Czech Republic. It brought me to tears because it was the first time HERE that I really felt that communion really was something that Christ had done for me in particular, the first time it felt like the very personal gift of the Lord that it is. It was exactly the encouragement that I needed.

Later that morning the regular schedule for the week began, with seminars and workshops in the morning and afternoon, sprinkled with free time and group meetings, late afternoon evangelism and evening concerts. All of these things went off without a hitch except some of the sports activities during free time and on Wednesday afternoon as the skies let loose with rain on late Monday morning and didn't quit until Thursday night.

By Monday morning, some of the people in my small group came to Miriam and me to say that they really had no idea what we were talking about in our group and that they had found different groups to attend instead of mine. They didn't want me to be upset. On the contrary, I was praising God for this. I really didn't want them to miss out on hearing God's Word because of the impairment of being in my group, so I really encouraged them to leave. At the same time, many more people began to join my group. They hadn't known that there was an English discussion group that they could join, but they heard about it very early in the week and came to be with us. Many wonderful young people with fabulous English skills joined my discussion group, and we were able to even laugh and joke around in our group as we discussed our topics in depth. I was even able to pose some of the very difficult application and connection questions that I had initially wanted to ask of my group. I really praised God for that opportunity. Also, we were able to make connections in every discussion between the Exodus that God gave the Israelites and the exodus from sin and death that we have through faith in Christ and His cross.

By the end of the week, on Saturday morning, it was so hard to believe that it was actually over. What had started for me as a discouraging and lonely week (my group was difficult and I knew relatively few people with whom I could talk, only having one or two people for translators) ended up to be one of the best weeks I've had here (even in spite of the fact that on Thursday I spent the whole day in bed with a fever of 100F). By the end of the week, God had made my discussion group into a wonderful group of fun-loving Christian friends, He had blessed me with many new friends from the youth groups in the surrounding villages, and He had also blessed me with about 5 or 6 incredible grown-up translator friends.

Prayer Requests:
-Please pray that the youth who attended XcamP would be salt and light in a world that is not friendly, even hostile, to the Gospel and to Christ. Pray especially for those who are returning to their university campuses this fall where there is no powerful Christian network present like the one here in Silesia (the universities here don't have anything like the Christian "infrastructure" that I was blessed with at the U of N).
-Pray for the youth who returned to non-believing homes; may they be a light before their parents and siblings!
-Pray that the believers in this tiny corner of the Czech Republic would be passionate about God's salvation and worship of Him in such a way that they cannot help but evangelize those around them out of a desire for more people to come to a knowledge of the Truth and worship of our great God!

Psalm 65:8 "Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy."