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."