Friday, July 18, 2008

Two Weeks of Summer Break

It's been two weeks since English Camp (whole group from English camp shown in picture), and they've been wonderful. I have spent a lot of time preparing for my English classes on Monday and Tuesday evenings, working on my June newsletter which I finally sent yesterday, and being with the youth group kids I love so much. I am still working on uploading my photos from English Camp to a web album on Picasa (operated by Google). Once I've finished, I plan on including a link on my blog to the album. I took over a thousand pictures during EC, but Picasa places a 500 photo limit on its albums. This is for the best, as I'm sure I don't have even 500 pics worth sharing with the whole world.

There's really not a lot of news to share about what's been happening during my weeks "off," but I guess I have a few favorite things that have happened I'd like to share. I got to spend Sunday afternoon with Pastor Michal and his family (wife Sarka and their four kids). We went to a retreat center in the mountains where a bunch of families with young children were having a weekend retreat. There Michal spoke with about marriage; how to keep your marriage healthy, how to honor your own marriage and how to honor the marriages of those around you. In the afternoon, following his talk, we all went to Sarka's parent's cottage where the kids and I swam. It was great fun. I especially enjoyed the splashing game that we got into. It's great to play in the water with kids who haven't yet figured out how to splash someone effectively. I guess I had an unfair advantage, but I don't regret it. It started to rain (and practically hasn't stopped since) and we had to get out of the pool. It was a really great afternoon.

Another favorite thing of the past two weeks is that this band, made up of six young men with whom I'm becoming friends, has been practicing in the basement of the parish hall in the evenings. They are the main worship band for XcamP, a huge camp event that begins tomorrow and lasts through next Saturday. I really love to sit in on their practices and sing along with the songs that I recognize and watch them as they interact and as they jam out on their instruments. They are some of the best musicians I have ever known, and they are really tight. I think they've all been playing together for about 4 years, and so they follow one another really well. I wish that all of you reading this could have the opportunity to watch and hear them rather than just reading this inadequate description of them.

It was really wonderful to go out for coffee yesterday afternoon with one of the members of the Czech team from English Camp, Katka Konesov√°. This girl is incredible. I really enjoyed her and her crazy-fun personality and her energy and her love for Jesus when we were at English Camp. She isn't from the Trinec Lutheran Church-- she isn't even from Trinec-- and so I never get to see her. But we made a date for yesterday to spend time together and get to know one another better. It was just wonderful. I have hopes to build a really good, lasting friendship with her.

Another delightful thing of the past two weeks is that I have started to have some Czech lessons. One of the members of the worship band, Tomas, and I became friends during the English Camp. After camp, I knew that he didn't have a summer job, and so I told him that since he had so much time on his hands, he should help me to learn Czech. He thought that was a great idea, and so I've now had two Czech lessons with him. For our first lesson, we went to a pub and he taught me all about all of the things one finds in a pub and how to order food or a beer and things of that nature. It was a great time. For our second lesson, we talked about daily routine. I learned all about how to describe my patterns for getting ready in the morning and how to talk about what I do throughout the course of the day. Today I shared what I have learned with some of my other friends, and they were all amazed. I was kind of embarrassed and nervous that I would say things incorrectly because I didn't practice a lot, but so far everyone has been pretty impressed. I have to say though, that I don't think they are impressed so much at my stunning ability to speak a little bit of Czech as they are at the fact that I've learned anything.

So, tomorrow I go for a week to XcamP. This is a huge event for this area, organized by Daniel Chlebek, the youth pastor for the whole Silesian Church. It's a really big week of evangelism and discussion about a Bible topic (this year it's about the Exodus, hence the name "X"camp), with all kinds of cool events like sports and concerts. It's kind of like big summer music festivals in the US in that most of the people who come pitch their tent and sleep right next to the big tent where all of the big festival activities take place. My role for the week is to be a group discussion leader. I will be leading group members in English discussion about our twice daily Bible topics. I am really looking forward to this and am hoping that the people who opt to be in my group really are ready and willing to discuss the topics in English, rather than hoping to get an English lesson. Another important thing to note about XcamP is that not all the people who come are already Christians. In fact, I understand that a really large number of them aren't already believers, and so we have our work cut out for us to show these young people through the story of the Exodus how God also wants to lead them out of their bondage to sin into the Promised Land of heaven through His Son, Jesus Christ. I'm really excited about it!

Prayer Requests:
-Please pray that God would use XcamP as a huge tool for the spreading of His Law and Gospel into the lives of young people in this area who have either never heard the Truth before or who have heard it but never really been affected by it.
-Pray that all of the leaders at XcamP would be faithful to our task to lead discussion on God's Word and that we would be tools for God. Pray that we would be sensitive to God's movement and that we would be welcoming to serious questions and discussion about real problems or doubts in the lives of the members of our groups.
-Please continue to pray for the children who attended English Camp, that those who received faith in Christ would grow and be nurtured in their new faith and that those who are not yet believers would grow to believe what they have heard.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Fortnight in America and the Return to the Field

It's strange what a four week hiatus can do to one's ability to blog. I have been thinking for several days that I needed to get writing so that you could know what I've been up to lately. And while so much has been going on, I've been having trouble figuring out what I should say.

Summer started here while I was in the US for two weeks. That's right, I was in the US from June 14 through June 27. I spent those two weeks in St. Paul, MN at LCMS World Mission missionary orientation and training. The time I spent there was incredible and invaluable for my mission and teaching work here. More than the education I received on funding my mission, my missionary insurance, keeping up communication while I'm here, how to stay psychologically healthy while I'm on the mission field, spiritual warfare, the organization of World Mission and the Ablaze! movement, and how to be a better teacher, were the incredible friendships that I developed with the other new LCMS missionaries.

All of the LCMS missionaries that will go out this year were in attendance at our orientation in St Paul and I have to say that I was incredibly blessed by all of them. God has done some amazing work in raising up people who are willing to leave everything from home behind and follow Him to the corners of the world. Many of these missionaries are just like me: fresh out of college with nothing in life in the US holding them back from chasing God to the ends of the earth. Some are young people who do have commitments at home that they must return to after their year term overseas is finished.

An impressive number are adults (as opposed to new college grads) who have answered God's call to leave behind a very involved and busy life in the States or who are retired and who have sold everything to go overseas. Also at orientation were a number of new career missionaries who are going overseas for life. The regional directors for every world region but one and many of the volunteer coordinators-- direct supervisors of volunteers like me-- were there also. These people all answered God's incredible call and they all blessed me with their stories, wisdom, encouragement, and insight into missions. All of our pictures are featured on the LCMS World Mission blogsite. Please be sure to include these people in your prayers!

After two incredible weeks in St. Paul-- made even better by the fact that my parents came to visit during the middle weekend, I got to visit with my dear friend Elise and her husband Tony (who live in St. Paul) three times, I got to speak on the phone with another dear friend Emily, and even saw my friend Kyle one of the times I visited Tony and Elise-- I came back to the Czech Republic. During the trip back, I had a 6 hour layover in Amsterdam and a 6 hour layover in Prague. Because I managed to sleep for the duration of the trans-Atlantic flight, I was wide awake and ready for some sight seeing in these two incredible cities during my free time.

However, due to the time (it was 6:30AM) and the weather (cold and foggy) when I landed in Amsterdam, I decided not to go into the city, and I spent part of the time having a coffee with my seatmate from the flight. It was a pleasant 90 minutes that I spent with Mark from Germany, talking mostly about travel. I wanted so badly to talk to him about Jesus, but all conversations don't lend to a Gospel presentation. I did have the chance to tell him what my work is in the Czech Republic, but couldn't go much further than that with him.

When I arrived in Prague, I hadn't received an invitation to coffee as I had in Amsterdam and I was more than ready to get out and see something and do some walking after so much sitting around. So, I dropped off my carry-on luggage and asked the information desk how to get downtown. I bought a round-trip bus ticket from the airport and half an hour after I boarded my bus at the airport I was coming up out of the subway station in the Old Town of Prague and staring slack-jawed at the view in front of me: the Vltava River and Prague Castle up on the hill. I had forgotten that the view from the subway was so magnificent. When I exited the subway I was really regretting that I didn't have my camera, but I figured that I would have another chance to see the same thing again and didn't worry about it too much. I only allowed myself about 2 hours in the city because I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of time to get back to the airport and be ready at my gate for an hour in advance of the flight.

Because of the time constraint, I didn't see much new, but I mostly retraced the steps I'd taken in the Old Town eight years ago when I was in Prague with my grandma Effken. From the subway, I found my way to Charles Bridge and crossed the river, looking at all of the artwork on display for sale, being careful not to bump into any other pedestrians and being careful to hold on to my bag, in the event of pick-pockets. I bought three small photographs of the city on the bridge with which I plan to decorate my room here. After I left the bridge, I went into a few gift shops and went to an information office for a map of the city. I had to also exchange some money as I hadn't taken much with me when I left for the States. I meandered over to the Old Town Square, where the astrological clock and the Tyn church are. I didn't remember ever going into Tyn church, so I decided that would be the new thing I would do. It was worth it and very beautiful.

After buying some postcards in the church, I went to the Franz Kafka bookstore on the square and bought an English copy of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This book is the favorite book of one of my friends, and when I found out some months ago that it was by a Czech author, I decided I had two reasons that I must buy it and read it. After the bookstore, I thought I ought to find my way back to the subway. I happened to walk past a synagogue on the way to the subway. Unfortunately it was closed (it was Saturday), or I would have gone in for a look and to learn something about the history of the Jews in Prague. I plan on doing that the next time I'm in the city, if possible.

Upon arriving back at the airport, when I came to my gate, there was a group of about 20 or so Americans, mostly teenagers and some adults, in the same area of the terminal. I eavesdropped on them and decided that they must be Christians on a mission trip. So, I worked up some courage and went over to talk to them. It turned out that they were on a mission trip from Calvary Baptist Church in Pottstown, PA, on their way to a town in Slovakia, close to Bratislava. They were going to be in the area for two weeks. I swapped stories and contact information with them and am still waiting to hear from them. I'm not worried that I haven't heard yet, as they are still on their trip and should be back in the US by the beginning of next week. It was wonderful to be able to encourage them and to have them be an encouragement for me as I was coming back here for the "long leg" of my stay in the Czech Republic.

When I finally arrived at the parish hall here in Trinec, Pastor Michal and Sarka were up waiting for my return and they welcomed me back warmly and asked me all about my trip. Of course, since it was 10:30PM and I'd been traveling for a day and a half, I didn't want to talk too much, but it was so nice to have them so excited for my return and it was so nice to be "home." Really though, it was great to take a shower (one of the top 5 showers of my life, I'd say) and sleep in my "own" bed.

My favorite activity from Orientation was what we called Urban Plunge. It was an afternoon where we went out in pairs to different parts of St. Paul where we would be immersed in a different culture and have to do some common things. My partner and I were sent to the Somali Mall in Minneapolis. We wore long dresses over our jeans so that we would be able to fit in better among the very conservatively dressed women at the mall. Among our tasks were to make a friend with someone who would teach us how to do basic greetings in the Somali language, to eat a meal at a restaurant, to buy some clothing, to get a haircut, to play a game of pool with our new friend, to drink a cup of chai tea and other things.

During lunch, when I ate goat meat for the first time in my life, I interviewed my partner, Sherie about her life in missions (she has served the Lord all over Latin America with her husband, a called and ordained pastor). She had a lot of wonderful experiences to share with me from a lifetime of mission service. I greatly appreciated it as a new missionary, and was encouraged so much by her.

When we were shopping, we had a very interesting and informative conversation with a woman about religion and the state of America. This woman was a passionate Muslim and though we did not try to turn the conversation to Jesus, we did manage to find a lot of common ground with her about the problems caused by turning from God in our modern society. This was a wonderful adventure and we returned back to Concordia's campus later than we were supposed to, but we thought it was worth it to meet the people and see and do all of the things at the mall that we did.

Prayer Requests:
-Please pray for all missionaries everywhere, but especially for the new LCMS missionaries who are going out into parts of the world, committing at least a year of their lives to the service of the Lord.
-Please pray for all Christians everywhere, that they would realize that by virtue of being Christians, they are missionaries too. Pray that God would enable and strengthen them for their missionary task in the field where He has called them, whether work or school or even home.