Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Great Multitude in White Robes

I have a lot of "thinking time" on my hands as I live here in Třinec, concurrently surrounded by a foreign language and by incredible Christians. One of the things that I have pondered a lot lately and have been amazed by, a thing that has brought me to deeper places of wonder at our big God is described in Revelation 7:9-10:

"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'"

It has become dear to my heart to think about the multitude of people representing a multitude of languages and tribes and nations that will be present before the throne of God in heaven, crying and singing and shouting with great, inexpressible joy the glories of our God, the Lamb.

It has also been a fun thing to wonder about communication in heaven. What will speech in heaven be like? Will we all still speak our own languages, but be able to understand each other perfectly anyway? Or will we all be returned to one common speech as mankind was before the incident of the tower of Babel when God confused the speech of man? If so, what will that language be? I know that these questions are completely non-essentials, but they help to maintain a sense of wonder at the glories of heaven and the presence of God in my mind, and so they are good to ponder.

I can't wait to be a part of that great multitude in white robes, crying the mercy of our God through the blood of His Son, the Lamb: Jesus Christ.

Climate note: The weather here is INCREDIBLE! There is a light rain about every third or fourth day on average so far, and it keeps everything so fresh and green and cool. Today there was a pretty good storm lasting most of the afternoon. It was probably about 75 F before it started to rain. After the storm when I went outside, the temperature had dropped to around 60. It is wonderful. I will be able to wear jeans and a light jacket most of the summer (one of my two favorite types of weather).

They don't get "Nebraska style" storms here, as far as I have experienced. There has only been thunder two or three times in all of the rain we've had. The first time I heard it was around 2:00AM about two weeks ago. It woke me up and almost scared me with the sheer loudness of it. I thought that I had never heard thunder so loud. As I lay there and listened to it, almost convinced I'd never fall back asleep, I remembered that I had my windows open. That's right, you can sleep with your windows open when it rains and not worry about getting water inside.

I have to take a moment and explain the windows here. They are great in that they are dual function. If you turn the handle on the window up 90 degrees, you can open the window in just like a door. This is VERY handy for washing the windows. If you turn the handle up the next 90 degrees, the window may be tilted in from the top. This way, the top of the glass is inside, and the window remains connected to the pane from the bottom. This is how one may have the windows open and not worry about it raining in. When I "grow up" I want windows like this in my home. Another thing: there are no screens here on the windows-- just like Mexico! Actually, no. Here there are no screens because there are no big, obnoxious flying insects, and so far no mosquitoes (WOOHOO!). *In Mexico there were no screens on the windows not because of the lack of insects; far from it. Rather, it was because there was no heating or cooling system in the houses, but irrelevant to my blog about the Czech Republic.

To finish the story about the thunder: it turns out that when I got up and closed the windows, the thunder sounded just like middle-of-the-night thunder in Nebraska. So, Nebraska still wins in the forms of extreme weather, not that it was a competition.

In Nebraska after a big rain, the sidewalks and streets become covered with creeping earthworms. That doesn't happen here, at least to such a noticeable extent. I think I've only seen two or three earthworms. That may seem like a lot in a month, but this is the kind of thing that I pay attention to. What comes out after a big rain are these slugs. It's incredible. I went for a walk this evening after the rain was done, and the whole time I was walking, I had my eyes on the ground so that I wouldn't have slug goo all over the bottoms of my shoes when I got home. I have seen a lot of slugs, but today for the first time I saw a snail. This was a SNAIL. It was probably 4 or 5 inches long and its shell was almost the size of ping-pong ball. I stopped walking, crouched down, and just stared at it for about a minute. It was fascinating and beautiful. I wanted to keep it, but thought that was probably a bad idea, for both the snail and for me.

On Saturday morning I have some exciting plans! I will be getting up around 5:00AM to go to the Ostrava airport and fly to the USA. That's right, I'll be back on American soil in 82 hours. I am returning for a two-week training/orientation program with World Mission in St. Paul, MN. I will be learning how to be a fabulous EFL teacher and how to be an informed LCMS volunteer missionary, equipped with all the information I could possibly need to know about... well, I guess I'll find out soon. While I am there, my parents will be coming to St. Paul for the middle weekend of my stay. I can't wait to see them. I am also making plans to meet up with my lovely friend, Elise Probasco. I will then depart from Minneapolis on June 27th to remain in the Czech Republic until sometime in July of 2009.

Please pray:
- the great multitude who will stand before the throne in the robes made white by the blood of the Lamb. May they now, as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling, rely fully on God for their every need, trusting that He will bring them safely to their eternal home.
- that all believers everywhere (including you and I!) would be faithful in proclaiming the Good News of salvation through faith in Christ, that the great multitude might increase daily.
- for safe travel for me and for all of the other LCMS missionaries who will be traveling to St. Paul this weekend. Pray that I will learn everything they have to teach me so that I will be fully equipped to teach!
- for Stephanie Rosburg as she travels home for a month on June 24. Pray for health and for the ability to adjust to life in the States again, but that she doesn't get too attached. Pray against the desire to remain in the US when she has another year of service ahead of her in Poland, and pray that when she comes back to Poland that she won't suffer homesickness. Pray for a quick recovery from jet lag for her (she hates jet lag).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Czech Superstar

Yesterday I met my first Czech celebrity. Does the name Roman Lasota sound familiar? Okay, so maybe he's not that famous, yet, but having been a finalist on the Czech version of "American Idol"-- "Czech Superstar"-- makes him pretty famous among the 11 to 16-year-old Czech female demographic, I'm sure. Let me explain. In a little town very near to Třinec called Albrechtice this weekend they are having an event called OKO, a word which means "eye" in Czech, but is also an acronym for "O Kristu Otevřené" which means "About Christ Openly." This is the sixth year of OKO, a weekend where the Christians of Albrechtice strive to have all kinds of events for all ages to bring out the whole community and share the love of Christ with them. As I understand, these weekends have historically been very well attended.

Yesterday (Friday, June 6) was the first day this year, and they had a concert given by a local band. The singers in the band were last year's finalists in "Albrechtice Superstar," a village-wide version of the infamous television program. Roman came, because he is from the area, and sold CDs and also sang during the concert. Near the end of the concert, there was only one CD remaining and the MC said that anyone over 13 who wanted the CD could come up to the stage and perform a song to win the CD. No one was volunteering, so I asked my interpretor if she thought I should do it. She strongly encouraged me, so I went up. Fortunately, the MC spoke a little English, so I told him that I was from the US and that I didn't speak Czech, but that I wanted to sing for the CD. I sang "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High." Halfway into the chorus, the band and last year's "superstars" picked up what I was singing and joined in. By the end of the song, it was like I was the famous one, singing in front of an audience with an incredible band and back-up singers. So, I won the CD. When the concert was over, my interpretor told me I should have Ramon sign it. So, I hurriedly tore off the shrink-wrap and ran over to him. He spoke a little English too, and so we talked a little while he autographed the album booklet from the CD. It was just the funniest thing to me. So I've been listening to that CD today.

A quick recap of the last week:

On Saturday, May 31, I went with Stephanie Rosburg to Krakow, Poland for the day. It was great. It was hot and delightful. We had some traditional Polish food for lunch, shopped for souvenirs and English-language novels and teaching materials. We had ice cream and watched a guy play the diggery-doo (the Australian "musical" instrument) and we watched a group of Christian break dancers give their performance. It was a very good, very exhausting day of being a tourist.

Monday, June 2: I taught my first English class for beginners here at the parish hall. It was good, a lot of work, but very fun. I am using this method called Total Physical Response (TPR) which teaches verbs using the command form of the verb. It's really a lot of fun and we do a lot of moving around. The curriculum I have for TPR, from World Mission, uses TPR to teach the Bible. This coming week we will use last week's vocabulary to talk about the Fall.

Tuesday, June 3: I had school all morning. At the school I'm helping two other teachers lead their English conversation classes for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. Some days are very fun and the kids are a joy. Other days are tough. But God is so good. Also on Tuesday I taught my two conversation classes at the parish hall for the second time. This was also very good, a lot of fun and hard work.

Wednesday, June 4: My day off. I spent most of it with Sarka. I have convinced her that I really want her to teach me how to cook, in spite of the fact that I don't have anyone to cook for now. I told her that I need to know how to cook so that my future husband won't starve. So, we made some chicken noodle soup (from scratch, a lot easier than I thought it would be) and Chinese. I guess I haven't mentioned that here, the noon/afternoon meal is the big deal and that breakfast and supper are kind of after thoughts, little snacks to hold you over. There are almost always three courses: a soup, a main dish with some meat and a starchy food, and then a dessert with coffee or tea.

Thursday, June 5: This was a big day for me. Martín Hlavenka, Sarka's brother, drove me to my allergist appointment. There I learned that I have been suffering for two weeks from an allergy to some kind of grass. I received a prescription for allergy pills, eye drops and nasal spray. Great. The grass season here starts at the beginning of June and ends at the end of October, so I have that to look forward to. I hope that the particular grass I'm allergic to only gives off pollen until the end of July so that I don't have to have itchy eyes until November. Thursday afternoon I helped teach the seventh graders. That night I had a brass rehearsal. I am happy to say that finally my lips are starting to get into shape and I wasn't completely exhausted halfway into the rehearsal. I also got some help from one of the members of the youth group, Lukaš Kawulok, with my Czech studies.

Friday, June 6: I got up early and went for a run with Martín (the one who drove me to the doctor). Even though I spent so much time during my four months at home running, I haven't run very much since I got here, and Martín really gave me a work-out. He wants to join the Czech army either this fall or next (depending on his school schedule for this fall), and so he has been in training, pushing himself very hard so that he can be the best of the best of the best if/when he joins the military. I applaud him and his hard work. I also thanked him profusely for running slowly enough for me to keep up! I spent much of the rest of the day cleaning and reading, practicing my trumpet and practicing my Czech.
In the afternoon I went with Michal and Sarka and their kids to "Children's Day", a big outdoor event put on by my school. Each class gave some kind of performance and there were a lot of carnival-type fun things to do, including riding ponies, rope climbing, and even one of those big, inflatable castles for the kids to jump around in. It was a lot of fun and I felt like a celebrity because all of the kids were excited to see me at their performance. I enjoyed watching them and taking pictures, eating new foods and meeting new people. I didn't enjoy that we were outside and right next to a field with freshly mown grass. My eyes were itching like CRAZY! I spent a lot of time apologizing to people for always having my fingers in my eyes, and they seemed to understand. I came home from Children's Day around 7:00, long enough to change into warmer clothes and go to OKO.

My plans for today: I already did some laundry and washed my windows (an unfortunate choice, because while I was washing the last one, it decided to rain... oh well). I need to work on lesson plans for Monday and Tuesday, practice my trumpet and enjoy the beautiful day, the first Saturday that I've had all to myself since I arrived here.

Prayer Requests:
-Please pray that God would use my medicine to give me serious allergy relief. I don't know how much longer my eyes can take it. The poor things are so puffy and red from being rubbed constantly.
-Please pray that God would use OKO to His glory, that people from the community would have their "okos" opened to His truth and their salvation in Christ Jesus.
-Please pray for safe travel for me: I will return to the US on Saturday, June 14 for a two week training/orientation program for new LCMS missionaries in St. Paul, MN. Pray also that these two weeks would be to God's glory, that everyone there trained would be equipped to share not only English, but the Gospel in our little corners of the world so that the nations would praise God.

Monday, June 2, 2008

History of Třinec Lutheran Church

I found a great pamphlet here in the church the other day that contains the history of the parish in Czech, Polish and English. I was very excited and gratified to find this and thought you might find it interesting, too.

The Church History
It was already during Luther's lifetime when the region of Tesin Silesia had been reached by the Reformation. Around 1550, the whole region was Lutheran. Vaclav Adam, the Piast, who was Duke of Tesin, became and eager adherent of the Reformation and allowed the first church constitution and worship order to the Lutherans.

Adam Vaclav, Vaclav Adam's son, became Roman Catholic and began to persecute the Lutherans. Thus, the worst time for the Lutherans had begun. Beginning in 1617, they began taking churches away from the Lutherans. By 1654 they lost the final fifty churches. Lutheran pastors were banished from the country and Lutheran worship was outlawed. only the most faithful retained their Lutheran confession as they gathered at secret meetings in the mountains and woods.

After 50 years of strong persecution, the Lutherans of the Tesin region were allowed to build the "Upper Gate" Church in Tesin in 1709, thanks to the grace of the King of Sweden. This beautiful Church of Jesus that the Lutherans built with great zeal became the Mother Church of all Silesian Lutheran parishes.

In 1781 the Letter of Tolerance issued by Emperor Joseph II made it possible for Lutherans to start new parishes.

Lutherans were granted full equality with Catholics by means of the Emperor's Patent in 1861.

Our church stems from the roots of pietism which has become a permanent trait for the majority of our members. It follows the heritage of the Church Fathers and the Reformation emphasis on Scripture as the foundation of our faith and the norm of life. This makes our church trustworthy in the family of Christian churches.

The Parish of the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (read: Lutheran) in Trinec
Sept. 10, 1882 a meeting of 130 Lutheran was held which concluded that there was a need for a common gathering of Lutherans in Trinec.

Feb. 22, 1884 a committee was appointed to prepare Lutheran worship in Trinec.

March 25, 1884 the first Lutheran service took place.

1891: The Lutherans from Trinec and from Folvark obtained permission from other Lutheran parishes to form a daughter church. Ten elders were elected for this congregation.

June 21, 1896 the dedication of the church cornerstone took place.

July 9, 1899 The dedication of the church building.

Feb 28, 1902 the daughter church received permission to form a parish with full rights.

1999: The centennial of the church was celebrated.

The parish of Trinec aims to help the community by providing pastoral care inherent to the Church, not forgetting to organize public concerts and reasonable activities for the young generation's leisure time. Therefore, the believers can take part in creating a sound social climate in the city.

The History of the City of Trinec
Trinec, originally a small, insignificant community in the southern part of Tesin Silesia, is situated on both the banks of of the Olse River surrounded by the beautiful Beskid Mountains. The first mention of the community didn't occur until the 15th century. In 1799, Albert of Saxonia and Tesin had bought Trinec, adding it to the property of the town of Tesin. There were 318 inhabitants in the community in 1804.

The officials of Tesin Council decided to locate new iron works in Trinec of the Olse River. The first charcoal furnace construction started in 1836 and was put into operation in 1839. In a short time, this little foothill village had sprung to life.
Another important step that affected the development of the region was the construction of the Kosice-Bohumin railway in 1871. In 1880 there were already 1,612 inhabitants in Trinec.

The Christian consciousness led the people to build churches in the community and so in 1885 the Roman Catholic church had been built by an initiative of the Archduke Albert of Hapsburg, who paid all the expenses.

The Evangelical Lutheran church was built in 1899 and its construction was financed entirely by believers.

When the Austrian Mining and Metallurgical Company became the new owner of Trinec ironworks in 1906, the change had a great impact on the development of the community. There was also an unprecedented expansion of Trinec iron works and a general boom in the 20s which accelerated the development of the community.

On September 25, 1928, the board of representatives appealed to the government that Trinec obtain the status of a city. On December 11, 1930, the government of the Czechoslovak Republic decided to confer the status of a city to Trinec. There were 5,734 inhabitants at this time.

The Nazi German occupation lasted almost 6 years. The liberation of Trinec took place on May 3, 1945 after 6 AM.

The city of Trinec is a significant industrial and social center of the region. It contains one of the largest metallurgical factories in its territory in the Czech Republic. Today the city has about 45,000 inhabitants.

I hope you enjoyed that little history lesson. I was sure interested in it.

Prayer Requests:
-Please pray that God would heal me: I have never had allergies in my life, and all of a sudden I developed this strange itchiness around my eyes and mouth, and in my throat. I thought that it was an allergy to some plants here that I've never been around before. Someone pointed out to me today that my eyes and mouth may be irritated by the pollution from the iron works here in town. I am basically constantly rubbing my eyes and scratching around my lips. It is really uncomfortable! Oh, and I have the stuffy nose and congestion that accompany allergies frequently.
-I had my second English class here at the parish. Please pray that God would keep giving me strength and drive for this task. Also, pray that I would be an effective teacher, that my students would learn a lot and REMEMBER the material they've learned.