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)