Friday, May 30, 2008

Burst into Jubilant Song

Last week on Friday, the Concordia Wisconsin- Mequon choir, Kammerchor, stopped here in Třinec in the middle of their 10-day tour of Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria. This was a delightful two days for me, as I was able to interact with a wonderful group of my countrymen and fellow believers in Christ. It was wonderful to receive such a gift of easy conversation and of joy and energy in this young people. I also enjoyed the non-student members of the tour: the director, Dr. Ken Kosche and a handful of other adults.

On Friday morning, they arrived around 10:00 and had a short rehearsal inside our church. Then we all left for my school so they could give a brief concert to the children their and interact with them a little. This was a wonderful time and included a silly, repeat-after-me song with a lot of actions that the school children enjoyed. In the afternoon I had a privilege of going for ice cream and coffee with a group of the choir members and was able to tell them the exciting story of how God brought me to the Czech Republic through the sending of LCMS World Mission. It was a wonderful opportunity for many of them to learn, some for the first time, about the mission arm of their church body and how they themselves have the opportunity to be involved in missions after graduation. Several students had many deep, probing questions that led me to believe they were seriously considering becoming volunteer missionaries after school.

At 6:00 the choir performed their lovely, stirring, entirely a capella concert in the church. I cannot describe it except to say that listening to them was like going to a Concordia- Seward A Capella concert (many of my readers have heard this wonderful choir sing). Not a few of their songs gave me chills and goosebumps at the thrill of their worship of our God.

Following the concert, we all (all the Americans present) ate dinner together, played a few silly games, and then had a great time of worship and devotion. I had been asked to provide a devotion for this time. I spoke on Change, about how at times it can feel that everything in life has changed around us, uncontrollably, but that we can count on Him who does not change. We can rely on His solid, immutable promises, that our salvation in Christ and His love are things that are eternal and unchanging, things which cannot be lost or taken away by anything in this world.

Our great God "does not change like shifting shadows" (Jas. 1:17) and is "not a son of man that He should change His mind" (Num. 23:19). He says of Himself: "I the LORD do not change" (Mal. 3:10).

On Saturday morning, the tour members; Stephanie, my friend and LCMS volunteer missionary in Poland; Edek, the deacon here in Třinec; and I went to Javorovy, a nearby mountain with a chair lift. We rode the lift to the top of the hill and enjoyed the glorious view and enjoyed watching several parasailors try to take off.

After an hour and a half of looking around, we headed back to the lift. It was there, on the top of a beautiful, lush mountain, in the woods, that these choir members lifted their glorious voices in jubilant song to the Lord in an impromptu concert. Again with the goosebumps... At that moment, I could think of nothing more beautiful, no place in the entire world where I would rather have been. It was wonderful.

The choir had to leave for another town shortly after we left the mountain. They returned to Slovakia that evening and traveled shortly after to Vienna where they finished their tour. Some of them notified me on Wednesday that they had arrived safely back in Wisconsin. Praise the Lord for their gift of music and for their tour, singing His praises in Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria!

Please pray:
-that God would raise up many new missionaries for Him to spread His Good News to the corners of the globe, especially that He would move within the hearts of our Lutheran young people, at the Concordias and in non-Lutheran universities, to give them a passion for missions. Pray that when God asks, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" that they would eagerly say to Him, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8)

"Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn--
shout for joy before the LORD, the King." Ps. 98:4-6

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"The End of the Spear" and God's Ends Here...

A week ago today I spent a lot of time thinking about exactly what I'm doing here. I won't say that I wondered why I had come. I definitely was not regretting my decision to pursue God's leading to the Czech Republic. However, I was questioning my actual worth here, questioning what effect, if any, my presence here would have.

Wednesday (May 21) evening, I had searched for the movie "The End of the Spear" on YouTube, because I have never seen it and had some free time. I never found it, but I ended up watching several short, related clips instead. The movie is the account of what happened to a group of five missionary men, their wives, and their small children who were living in a remote area of Ecuador in the 1950s, trying to make contact with and evangelize a tribe of Haourani Indians called the Auca. This tribe was the most violent people group in the entire world, with the highest known homicide rate on the planet. The five men, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint spent months air lifting gifts to the tribe, but not having any personal contact. They finally made contact in late December 1955, and believed that they would have success in getting to know the tribe and begin to learn their language. However, on January 8, 1956, all five men were slaughtered by 10 men from the tribe. Two of the missionary wives, Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot, remained in Ecuador after their husbands were killed and eventually moved to live with the Auca and began to translate the Bible into the Auca language and to tell these people about God, who the Auca called the "man-maker." To make a long story short, the missionary wives were able to begin the process of making disciples of this nation. Subsequently, Steve Saint, the son of Nate and Rachel Saint, as an adult, moved his family to Ecuador to live among the people who had killed his father, and to continue to teach them about Jesus, the Christ.

My point in telling you all of this: God made AMAZING fruit from the labor and sacrifice of these five men. The 10 tribesmen who killed them became believers in Jesus Christ and then became the elders of the church that was established among their people. In thinking about what God did through their work, I began to do something that a child of God should never do: I began to play the comparison game. I thought, "What am I doing here? I am not worthy to be called a missionary because I am not going to bring the Gospel to these people in such a remarkable way. I will never convert a whole nation of people. I won't translate the Bible into a previously unwritten language. I'm just a lowly English teacher. I have it easy: I'm surrounded by believers!"

The great thing, however, is the reassurance that comes from knowing God's Word and His call. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11). Within the Church, God has given different tasks to different people. Similarly, God has called some missionaries to be linguists and transcribers of the Bible and even to be martyrs. Others He calls to be teachers of English and to lead little children to a knowledge of the truth.

I do not believe that by being here I am called to be a martyr for God's Church: chances are that I will not die here. I am not called to be a linguist: the Bible has existed in the Czech lands since before the Americas were even discovered. But that does not make my work for the Lord any less significant than the work that Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries did. While to human perception (mine, in particular), the work I do here may not be spectacular and dramatic compared to the work other missionaries have done, it does have lasting, eternal value.

The same goes for all of you who read this blog. When you work for the Lord, you are storing up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy it, and thieves cannot steal it. In your mission field (because all Christians are missionaries), the shortest conversations and smallest deeds in the name of Christ have lasting value in the kingdom of heaven.

24/7 Prayer Update:
Today I looked at the online sign-up sheet for the prayer vigil I discussed in my last post. Yes, the week of prayer is half over by now, but every single slot has name in it. Some of them have two or three names. THAT is cool! Praise God.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Delightful Surprise

When I signed up to come to the Czech Republic, I had no idea what I was getting into. I did read a lot of the statistics about the country, that the nation's population is around 10.5 million people, approximately 50% of whom claim to be atheists. Only 40% claim to be Christian. Another 10% fall into the "other" category (Unitarian, Muslim, JW). When I learned these figures, I began to pray very hard that God would begin to open the hearts of the people He would have me meet, so that I would be able to share the Gospel with willing hearers. I thought that I would basically be surrounded by non-Christians and that every day life as a believer would be a constant struggle, that I would bombarded by challenges to my faith by people who subscribe completely and totally to a post-modern, evolutionist, atheist world-view. Because of the grace of God, the exact opposite has been the case. While I have spent some time with non-believers and while even in the Christian school where I teach there are children who aren't Christians, I am really surrounded by a group of incredible believers. My neighbor/apartment mate, Karin; Pastor Michal Klus and his wife Sarka and their kids; the Polish pastor and his lovely wife; the youth leaders, Jiri & Jana, and Lucasz; the members of the youth group, especially Kristina; my two fellow English teachers; Stephanie Rosburg, my fellow LCMS volunteer in Poland. These people are all so encouraging and have done an amazing job of welcoming me and making it known that I am to be their friend and sister.

Yes, there is a lot of work to be done for the Lord in the Czech Republic. However, this area, Silesia, is kind of the Christian stronghold in the Czech Republic from the days when the atheist Soviets ruled the land. Christianity was suppressed by the Russians, but they could not extinguish the faith entirely (because God is more powerful than any human or human invention, including communists). Yes, there are a lot of non-believers here. Yes, there is SO much work to be done in bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to these people. However, I am SO amazed at the faith of those who are believers. I am amazed at the dedication, in word AND in deed of these people to the Word of God. There are meetings here at the parish hall every day of the week of people coming to read the Word, to encourage one another and to pray for one another. It's awesome.

The thing which has impressed me the most in this congregation is their dedication to prayer. Until I came here I had never been with Christians who seemed as though they couldn't WAIT to pray. At home, it is common in group prayer for there to be a lot of silent time when no one is praying aloud, and everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to pray, or for someone to end the time of prayer so that we can get back to the real, important business of conversation with one another or of "normal" life. Frequently, it seems as though people just have nothing to talk about with God. It is the complete opposite here. In group meetings, the leader say something to the effect of "Let us pray" and I can barely fold my hands and bow my head before someone has begun to call upon the Name of the Lord. This person will generally pray for about a minute. When finished, the pray-er says "amen," everyone else affirms the prayer with "amen," and then almost immediately the next person begins. It is awesome. After about three people pray-- unless it's a small group in which everyone prays-- then the leader lifts up his or her prayer, and when he or she says "amen," everyone knows that the prayer is finished. It is awesome.

More than this, the church is having a 24/7 prayer vigil starting on May 24 and lasting through May 31. It is awesome. Out of 168 possible hour time slots for the prayer vigil, as of right now, 10:04:48 PM, Tuesday, May 20, only 53 remain. I am amazed by that. I haven't signed up yet, but it looks like 2:00 to 3:00AM is still open for every day. And I'm young, I can handle that! All I have to do is get up and walk downstairs.

Prayer Requests:
-Pray that this 24/7 prayer vigil would be a great success, that the rest of the time slots would fill soon. Please pray that God would turn His ear to hear our cries to Him for the health of His church and for evangelism and outreach, for the salvation of the people of this community and the world

-Pray that Christians around the world would take prayer more seriously. Pray that God would remind His people that He Himself taught us to pray (Matt. 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4) and that therefore it is of great importance.

-Pray that God would continue to ward off homesickness and culture shock, neither of which I have experienced yet.

-Pray that God would continue to provide for my every need as He has always done and has promised to do. Specifically pray that the last bit of money needed for my support would come in (I have another incredible story about finances to share at a later time- God is SO GOOD!)

-Pray for safety and health for my brother while he and a group of students from Concordia are in Belize for two weeks on a biology study trip.

May you be blessed and encouraged by these things which have so encouraged me here!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Brief Update

It has been a wonderful 8 days here in the Czech Republic. People have started to ask me if I'm homesick, and-- praise the Lord!-- every time my answer has been "no." I think part of the reason for the lack of homesickness is that I have lived for an extended period of time in a foreign country before. Also, I got to speak on Skype with almost my whole family on Sunday. Mostly, however, I believe it's the wonderful people that God has surrounded me with here. Everyone I've met has been fabulous. They all love me. I don't think I've ever felt so welcomed anywhere in my life. This is a wonderful blessing.

I am just about out of time to keep writing, but I wanted to make sure that I wrote about this: I am the first trumpet in the church's brass choir. We've had one rehearsal so far and already one tiny performance. It was a lot of fun. The reason I have to wrap this up so soon is that I am being picked up to go to a neighboring town, Oldrichovice, to do a major rehearsal with that church's brass choir. Apparently they are very good. I can't wait. It is so interesting that I have this wonderful opportunity to participate and use my musical talents for God's glory this far away from home. I am also pretty stoked about the free time that I have to work on my musical ability. I have started practicing a little more on my own for the first time since high school (this is mostly because my lips were COMPLETELY SHOT after our rehearsal and performance on Monday). I'm looking forward to keeping this up!

If you're not praying for China, Burma, and India, please GET ON IT!


P.S. Our music director is Bob Newhart's Czech twin, no kidding! He wasn't as funny as Bob, but he was the spitting image.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day Three: Exhaustion

I'm still suffering the effects of jet-lag, I guess you could say. I have been here in Trinec for three nights and still have yet to sleep the whole night. That is my main qualm. Last night was the worst. I woke up at 2:00 and after three hours, I gave up on the idea of sleeping any more. I got up and checked my email. I picked up the mess in my room. I took a shower. Oh, the sun had started to come up at 4:45, and so around 7:00, clean and feeling remarkably rested for having only slept 2 hours, I walked around my building and a little bit of my neighborhood to take some pictures with the fun light angle of the sun at that time of day. Because it was so nice out, I decided that I would have my breakfast and do my morning devotions in the park that is right next to the church and the parsonage where I live. That was just wonderful.

Today I met my volunteer coordinator, David Fiala, for the first time. He and I went on a walk around town so that he could be sure that I knew where everything was and that I wouldn't be too shy to venture out on my own. He recommended a good restaurant to get a coffee and said that I should do my shopping in the little stores where I have to ask the owner to get things for me so that I force myself to learn the words for things. I agreed that it was a good idea. We went to Poland to meet Stephanie Rosburg, another LCMS Long-term missionary volunteer who has been in Cieszyn, Poland for nine months now. I have been looking forward to meeting her for quite some time. She, David, and I went to lunch together at this wonderful Italian restaurant in Cesky Tesin (in Czech Republic) and had a lot of laughs and shared a lot of fun stories. Then we brought Stephanie to Trinec to see my apartment. Once that was over, David decided to go back to Poland by a way he had never taken before in order to know if this idea he had was a shortcut. It worked pretty well and we drove past some absolutely beautiful scenery.
Afterward, David brought me back to Trinec and we talked about ways that I can start preparing my English ministry for this fall. I am very excited about the opportunities that I, and another Ashley who is joining me in August, will have to spread the Gospel to these beautiful people!

Part of the reason that I am so tired also is the fun that I've been having. Friday I spent the afternoon with Pastor Klus' children and a friend of theirs. They taught me a lot of words for objects around the house (most of which I promptly forgot) and all of the colors. Then we went outside and rammed around the playground which is about a block from the parsonage where we live. After an hour at the park, I came back and rested for about 30 minutes, and then the youth group came. They meet every Friday at 4:30 in the fellowship hall downstairs in this parsonage. I was with them from 4:30 until 11:00 PM. We played a lot of games and had a devotion, ate supper together and generally had a great time. I can honestly say that I fell in love with each of them almost instantaneously. It was wonderful to meet all of these exhuberant, lively, wonderful, young teenagers. I think that it will be wonderful to continue to get to know them during the course of this year and to invest in friendships with them and to be able to pray for them and watch them progress in their processes of sanctification. Also, I made friends with some of the student leaders who are about my age and who speak wonderful English. I am really looking forward to making Kristina, Romana, and Lukas my dear friends. These are three very incredible young Christian adults, and I think that we can learn a lot from each other and encourage one another a lot in our shared faith in Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow: Confirmation. I met all of the confirmands yesterday and am so excited for them to affirm their educated faith before the congregation and to be able to rejoice with them in such a special day in their lives.

Prayer requests:
- Good sleep for me! I am SO tired, I don't know what I'll do if I can't sleep all night!
- Quick apprehension of Czech. I am learning so much already, please pray that I would increase in my progress so that I would be able to more readily converse with those who aren't as knowledgeable in English already.
- Strong faith in Christ for the youth of the congregation of SECAV Trinec (Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession- Trinec... they don't call themselves "Lutheran" here).
- Opportunities to share my faith and encourage the other believers around me, as well as opportunities to share my faith with nonbelievers.
- Please pray that God would mercifully pour out His Holy Spirit on those who do not yet have faith in His Son that they might have believe in Jesus and by believing in Him have life in His Name!

I pray God's blessings for all of you!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Arrived at Last!

On Monday, Dad and I arrived at the Lincoln Airport at 11:00 am (CDT) and I couldn't check in for my flright. It turns out that, even though we had tried to book my tickets for Monday, they were booked for Tuesday. So, I laughed about that to myself a little, that of course, after the four months that I've had, I would not be able to fly out on the day that I thought. I guess those who don't read really are not any better off than those who can't (Mark Twain-ism). So, we went home and I slept all afternoon and then ran 6 miles in the evening in an attempt to get really worn out so that I would be able to sleep that night.

I woke up early on Tuesday morning to try it again. This time once we got to Lincoln, I was successful at checking in to the airline. I handed off my two checked bags to TSA and went to sit and rest until Mom showed up with lunch. Dad and I watched the TSA man go through all of my carefully packed luggage very meticulously. It took him what seemed like 30 minutes to finish making sure that I didn't have any dangerous materials in my luggage. We couldn't figure out what all of that was about until after I decided to go through security myself to get on my plane.

When I showed the security guard my boarding pass and ID, I was informed that I was the airline equivalent of the winning 100th customer, and so I was deemed eligible for a free extensive security screening. So I got patted down and all of my carry-on stuff was systematically unpacked and then haphazardly repacked before my very eyes. This seemed to me to be yet another proof that Satan is hostile to the mission work that God has planned for me to do. Usually this special treatment by TSA would be the kind of thing that would really bother me, but it didn't.

The plane from Lincoln took off at 12:53, ten minutes early. The man behind me initiated conversation with me by asking what time we were supposed to have taken off. From there we discussed what each was traveling to Denver for, and when I mentioned that I was going for 15 months to the Czech Republic for mission work, his ears perked up. I thought that was a good thing at first, but I discovered that this was another attempt by the devil to derail my mission work. The man asked my age after expressing my excitement for doing mission work and spreading the gospel to those who have never heard it. I told him, and he said that I sounded a lot like him when HE was 23. I was still thinking this was a good thing. However, for the rest of the hour-long flight, he proceeded to explain to me all of the academic reasons he had for gradually becoming an atheist. He told me that he had been curious to know more about the history of the Church and of Palestine at the time of Christ, and that through his studies, he had learned that Jesus had never existed and that the men we credit with writing the Gospels did not write them, that everything found in the Gospels was heresay, that Paul never spoke of Christ in purely physical, but rather metaphysical terms, and therefore St. Paul didn't even believe that Christ was a real person, but rather an ideal for humans to strive to be more like... This man spent the entire trip to Denver trying to derail me in my work. The worst part of it for me was that I found it very difficult to contradict him, because I have not read as widely as him and I am not nearly as vociferous of a speaker as he was.

When the flight was almost over, I asked for his name and told him that I would add him to my prayer list. This was a big mistake. He told me that that offer was as offensive as if I had told a fat person that I would try to help them lose weight (without their invitation to help).

This conversation weighed very heavily on me for hours into my second flight, from Denver to Munich. While I was struggling to fall asleep, I listened to my iPod. I happened to decide to listen to the Lutheran Hour podcast, because in the past Pastor Klaus' voice has put me to sleep. It just so happened that at the end of the second message that I listened to, in my futile attempts to sleep, was a question and answer session about the "Historical Jesus" and some of the arguments that people have come up with recently to try to refute that Jesus even existed. It was such a blessing from God to hear that, because the three main things that Pastor Klaus discussed were exactly what I had on my mind from my discussion with the atheist man. I began to cry a little bit because that was not the first time that day that God had provided for me just when I needed it. Nor would it be the last.

Suffice it to say that the first day of my missionary experience was an incredible one in which many challenges arose that allowed me to trust God for His provision and be amazed when He showed up.

There is so much more to write, but I will have to save it for later. I am going to be spending some time with Sarka Klus, the pastor's wife, this afternoon and having a tour around town. I can't wait. I'll also add a picture or two to this post when I get back!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Blast Off: T minus 15 hours

Oh, how incredible that after months of waiting I am finally to be flying overseas tomorrow afternoon! That it is true, and finally to come about defies my imagination. The flight plans are as follows: Depart Lincoln 1:03PM central. Arrive Denver 1:28PM mountain. Depart Denver 2:05PM mountain. Arrive Munich 7:55AM local.Depart Munich 8:35AM local. Arrive Vienna 9:45 local.

Please pray for safe travel. Also pray that Pastor Klus will find me quickly, as I have no idea what he looks like.