Overdue Update

“Always expect the unexpected” has been the mantra for years of folks who have lived in Eastern Europe. I felt like I had basically moved beyond that.  My trips were typically structured in such a way that surprises seldom occurred.  I knew what to expect and what to prepare for.  That’s where I was mentally on March 1 when I flew out of Orlando for Prague.

  • Sundays- planned down to the details of which trains to take.
  • Marriage seminar- all set up.
  • Brno study- organized and prepared.
  • Prague and Brno lectures- ready to go.
  • Topics for small group studies- check.
  • Evenings to visit various families- done.
  • Time in the village- last minute, but fit in perfectly.
  • Sofia- mapped out.

It would be a very busy and structured trip. Except for Sofia and the Brno lecture, it all worked out as planned.  Then, something else happened. Covid-19.

The swiftness with which life changed was surreal.  The government’s response was faster and more austere than I would have then imagined possible.  Overnight things shut down.  Only food and drug stores were open.  Masks became mandatory anywhere outside your home.  All travel deemed non-essential was banned.

In many ways, the impact on brethren there was similar to here.  They had to grapple with how to be good citizens while still doing what their consciences called on them to do as Christians.  Our situation there was also different in some significant ways.  The groups there are relatively small.  The largest might have 30 on a good Sunday.  They don’t own property or have official status, and they generally fly under the radar. While complying with the letter of the law by stopping assembling in their rented facilities, there were various ways they could continue their work.  They counted me as family, and the government included spiritual counseling as essential services from the beginning.  Thus, with adjustments, the work not only continued, but continue at a frenetic pace.

The question that loomed throughout this was, “When would I be able to travel back to the States?” International flights were being canceled at a dramatic frequency- often at the last minute.  The cynic in me believes that some airlines kept posting flights and selling tickets they knew wouldn’t fly to keep some cash flow going.  My return flight was canceled as was a flight for a few days later.  My next scheduled flight was for April 15.

As the busy days passed, we were settling into a new norm in the work.  It was a hybrid-life.  Each Sunday, in a couple of the cities, a small group would meet in the home of one of the members while the rest of the group would join via Skype. I alternated weekends between these groups until restrictions eased enough that normal gatherings were allowed again.  Bible studies with small groups and individuals continued throughout the entire time.  These studies were about 50/50 via tech and face-2-face.  I spent three weekends in the village with groups of various sizes. Most of the studies there were F2F, but a few of them were distance studies. We typically had 5-6 classes a day and spent the rest of our time just visiting, eating home cooking, or biking and hiking in the beautiful highlands.  Another family, who lives on the edge of Prague , would have me out a couple of times a week for a few hours.  We would visit, eat, and spend hours studying together- sometimes as we walked/sat in a huge park. I had the opportunity to run a few miles every other day through streets that were eerily empty. (The Czech government knew from the outset that being outside and getting exercise was a good thing.)

If you have been mentally doing the math, you realize we are past April 15 now.  That flight was canceled as well as two different flights for May 1.  Then a May 16 flight was canceled. I finally flew on May 20.  This process was stressful, but it could have been much worse.  In each case, I knew 3-4 days in advance.  I didn’t choose flights that were supposedly just starting back.  I chose those that would have a bit of a history of actually flying before my date.  So, I never found myself with classes canceled, no accommodations, (That would have been a big mess.) or even worse- stranded in the international section of an airport.  Also, my Airbnb flat was comfortable, well located, and continued to be available.  There were never any shortages of basics- not even toilet paper.  I had a wonderful support group of brethren I have known for, in some cases, almost 30 years.  They tried to be sincere in hoping I would finally make it back to Florida, but they struggled with that. I had folks back at Edgewood who were sympathetic with my situation.  My family was very supportive.  Many brethren in the States were keeping me in their prayers. Also, the work was incredibly encouraging and productive.  All of these things were simply manifestations of God’s blessings and care for an unworthy son.

During these days, I had around 160 studies/sermons/classes.  An hour each was the standard length.  It reached the point where my time was filled with either actually doing the studies or preparing for them.  It was the work of an evangelist in its truest sense. The types of studies varied greatly. Each Tuesday evening I was in Prague with a group of college students. I would cook supper and then we studied for an hour or two. On Thursday and Sunday evenings, we had a large, often hybrid, group study that included people from as many as 6 different countries.  In the village the studies varied from one to one to several people at a time with only short breaks in between. Other studies were walking through the forest with just one or two. Several times a week I would Skype with and individual or a family.  In addition to this, I was recording and posting a video or two each week for our Edgewood folks.

These studies included a good combination of Christians and non-Christians.  The studies with non-Christians increased as restrictions were eased. It included people from the Czech Republic, Austria, England, Bulgaria, the US (not me), Lithuania, and Moldova. It included ages ranging from small children to the elderly.  Topics included some needed stuff closely connected to the Covid-19 problem, some detailed textual studies- especially the minor prophets, lessons on home and family, some deep digging into various theological/philosophical topics, and some from practical “how to make tomorrow a better day” sort of stuff.  Despite the challenges, it was a wonderfully encouraging and successful, long trip.  It demonstrated how much good can still be done there, and was somewhat reminiscent of the initial experience in 1990.

Several of you have asked me about the additional financial burden the addition 60 days in Prague created.  I deferred giving any actual details until I knew when I would get home.  While I believe it was worth it, the cost was not insubstantial.  I’m fighting what I feel will be a losing battle for any refund or credit on the initial return flight.  Consequently, I had to buy a new ticket home that costs 1100.00.  Because of the crash in tourism, accommodations were much cheaper than normal, but it was still and addition couple of months, so that costs 1400.00. The daily living expenses amounted to about another 1200.00.  Any help in defraying these expenses would be appreciated.

Thanks so much for your interest and prayers.  I feel very blessed to have people who are my partners in the work.  I plan to post this on my blog page as well as a bunch of pictures that go with the story, so feel free to visit that page.  May God bless you in His service.

Bill

 

Sunday in Brno

Our worship in Brno yesterday saw a smaller group than normal, but wonderful and giving hearts. Jan had brought some masks to share with the group, while Jozef, a chemist, had mixed up some homebrew sanitizer since it’s no longer available in stores here.

After the assembly, I sent about 3 hours walking around the city with a dear friend and discussing a range of issues. The new laws (not to be confused with recommendations) made that a more viable way for us to meet. It was right around freezing, so I’m glad we were walking as opposed to standing.

The train ride back to Prague was odd to the pont of being darkly comical. The ticket checker initially thought that no one was in the car I was riding in. When she saw me, she said in Czech, “You have a ticket, don’t you? They told me to check all the tickets, but I don’t want to touch them all. Is it okay if I don’t look at yours?” I assured her I did have one, and then we pleasantly interacted throughout the trip.

“Praha-Brno Study”

The week ended on a very positive note with a scaled-down version of the bi-monthly Saturday study. We changed venues to Robert and Tami’s. The turnout was good (about a dozen) considering a variety of circumstances, and the people were engaged and appreciative. Tami provided a nice lunch, but we all managed to stay awake for the afternoon discussion.

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Busy Week

Last week was busy for a variety of reasons. Thankfully it was busy with study opportunities. For different reasons I won’t detail this, but I’m thankful to say that they have included a nice variety of people and kept me busy for several hours each day. Of course, it was also a week of transition with the Corona virus. One of the young Christians was tested. Thankfully it was negative, but the accompanying quarantining complicated some plans. The rules that have been put in place have left the city streets and public transportation nearly empty.

What A City!

Though I have been using Facebook to post some thoughts and updates, I want to come back to the blog to provide more details and photos.  Let me start out during this difficult time with a reminder of what lovely city Prague is.  These are photos from a different vantage point than I normally have.

Strange Day!

Today was one of the stranger days I remember in my life. It was so filled with wonderful things. When I woke up in my very comfortable flat, I could tell from the sunshine it was a lovely day.  It was a “no coat required sort of day,” after day of cold, dark and rainy.  I had work and studies scheduled that had me excited.  I enjoyed the weather.  I sneaked in a workout at my “local” gym.  I shopped, and by bunkhouse standards cooked a really nice main meal for myself.  I had multiple studies that encouraged me a lot, and I hope did the folks I studied with.

However, there was another subtext to the day.  It was also a day of calls, emails, and texts about something very different.  It was about the Corona virus and how it is impacting the world, the Czech Republic, the brethren here, and my trip.  Throughout the day ambiguous and conflicting reports came from governments- ours and others about what would be happening.  The information about public meetings, travel, and a host of other things changed hourly.  MY schedule was already a bit up in the air, but a flurry of news flew it into chaos.  Our governments still to be defined policy on travel from the EU meant that my travel home was almost surely changed.  The likelihood of me being able to fight and pay for the tickets back to the states available before midnight Friday (regardless of which unspecified time zone was in mind) were miniscule.

I fought the mental battle for what to do, and decided it made no sense to not try to complete the work I had come to do. In the process of this, information spread that the Czech government was considering a ban on all meeting of over 10 people.  This would have essentially outlawed a couple of the basic things I had planned to do here.  Shortly after I decided to stay, the government announced a series of incredibly austere measures, but the allowable meeting size had been shifted to 30. We went from messed up to golden just like that.  (Yes, I’ve said a few prayers of thanks since then.).  Additionally, evolving circumstances in Bulgaria have put that sub-trip up in the air, though I still think it works, and a couple of other issues I’ll leave for another day.

Through all of this stuff to process, I’ve been awed by the love and concern shown by the folks over here, brethren in the States, the amazing opportunities that have been afforded me wherever I am, and the assurance of our Father’s continuing love. It was a strange but very blessed day.

Corona Update 2

While things here seem to be getting only slightly worse, the response is ramping up dramatically. My travel arrangements are in a bit of a mess because of it.  Thankfully, I have more teaching opportunities in more places than I can manage, so I don’t foresee any lack of good things to do though I’m unsure about where it will be happening.

Sunday

Sunday was such a long and wonderful day!  I arrived at the meeting place early enough to help set up the chairs and tables in the place the Prague church has access to for a couple of hours on Sunday.  That also gave me time to visit more with the two oldest members- Karel and Milada.  As the group gathered, we studied from Proverbs for our adult class and then did a lesson from Exodus 17.  We prayed for local as well as global concerns.  The baby daughter of a girl I watched grow up was with us. It was a great morning.

After our gathering, I was privileged to spend several hours in visiting and studying with two of our wonderful young men.  Their hunger to grow leaves me feeling good about the future here.

 

Marriage Classes

An invitation to do a day-long marriage study that focused on the different stages of marriage and Bible principles that help us understand and adapt to those stages posed an intriguing opportunity. More than a little trepidation accompanied me to the suburb where several couple from the region had gathered. One of the couples who attended plans to wed this spring. Another seems to be at a serious stage of dating. At the other end of the age/experience spectrum we had a couple with grandchildren.  The pictures show how the time together brought one of the couples closer together. As it turned out, the biggest challenge was refocusing after a great lunch. The material was very well received, and it was a good day.

Corona Virus Update

I appreciate the concern about any possible impact the Corona virus might have on the folks here and my work.  There are only 32 cases in the country, and some efforts are being made to check outsiders coming in.  The people are interested, modestly concerned, and displaying a bit of that lovable Czech cynicism about the whole thing.