Thursday and Friday in Prague were both pleasant and profitable. I spent the evening on Thursday with the Novak’s. On Friday, I met Petr Unger for supper and a visit. Petr and I had a great visit as well as a very positive study. The depth of his convictions and quality of his questions always impresses me.
The trip back to the States was pleasantly uneventful. I got home about about 8 PM and got a little rest before teaching a class and preaching twice on Sunday.
If the Lord allows, I will fly to Florida tomorrow. After what I pray will be a save arrival, I will make my final post for this trip and include the events of the last couple of days in Prague. Until then, I will share a few pictures from the city. I don’t go out to find pictures, but as I go about my business they are there. Some of them are simply street scenes showing the fairytale like nature of the city. Others, showing things like people lining up for ice-cream, riding in a horse-drawn carriage, or boys playing with a soccer ball in Old Town, are signs of spring. People renting Segways and selling weird toys reflect the huge numbers of tourists.
I also took a few shots from the old Jewish Quarter of the city. These include a couple of old synagogues as well as an outside shot of the cemetery. (I was too cheap to buy the ticket to go in.) The stacking of graves in the cemetery has always fascinated me.
I was sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking tea and working on a lesson on evangelism for the Brno Study this fall when the Krishna group came by. My prayer is that we succeed in telling them about Jesus while at the same time being motivated by their courage and zeal. Finally, I always marvel at the challenges people here who are handicapped in some way experience.
One of the brightest parts of each trip is the opportunity to spend an evening with Honza and Monika. By public transportation, the trip to their flat takes about an hour but is well worth it. The rush-hour bus ride into the suburbs is a reminder of normal daily life for so many in this large city.
Honza, Monika, Terezka, and Andrea are the kind of godly family that shows the wonderful power of the Gospel not only to change lives but to continually mold them. Most of our discussions are centered around how they as a family can strive for excellence in the Lord’s service. The food was wonderful and the conversation was profitable. Their attitude reflects the good way in which most Christians in Prague are moving on in a positive way from their recent challenges.
On Monday Biss was not available to meet until the evening. Honza suggested he rent a car and we use it to see a little of the countryside outside of Sofia. We drove through agricultural areas on our way to the Rilla Mountains. As we passed, we saw the neglect that characterized the countryside. Part of the problem is residual from communism. We saw the deteriorating hulks of failed communist collective efforts. We also saw a countryside being steadily depopulated as people either go to the west to work or move into Sofia. One village we stopped in had become essentially a ghost town.
We also saw the stunning beauty of the countryside as we approached our primary destination- the Rilla Monastery. The last remnants of melting snow are creating temporary waterfalls as the water cascades down the mountain. The Monastery, which dates from the 10th century, was both practically and symbolically the bastion of efforts to retain Bulgarian national identity during the country’s 500 year harsh occupation by the Turks.
After our safe return to the city, we met Biss for a final evening together. As always the conversation was lively, entertaining, and primarily focused on the kingdom.
On Tuesday we made the short flight back to Prague with a feeling of genuine accomplishment for our trip. Honza accompanying me was a blessing in many ways. It was not only of great value to the Bulgarian brethren, but also gave us many additional hours together for study and companionship.
Sunday was wonderfully long and productive. We met with the Renaissance church of Christ that morning. Hristo asked Honza to say a few words about the brethren on the Czech Republic. He handled it very well. As usual, I peached for the group. The brethren there are always very kind in heir response to my efforts.
Following the assembly, Hristo, Vanya, and Natalia took Biss, Honza, and I to lunch. Following a long and pleasant visit we parted ways with Biss, Honza, and me walking back to the center. Along the way, we decided to stop and tour the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe. To the credit of the Bulgarian people, it is less than a quarter of a mile from the mosque, yet there are no problems.
We met a man named Bogdan mid-afternoon. Bogdan was converted a number of years ago, but left the country to work in a special Russian city dedicated to scientific research. He is a theoretical physicist who now works for the Bulgarian Academy of Science. Now that he is settled back into the country, hopefully he will settle in to being a regular part of the spiritual community as well.
The day ended with Honza and I walking Biss home before settling in for the night. We were both tired but very encouraged.
On Saturday Honza and I met early and did a little more exploring before meeting the others. The highlight of that was visiting the mosque in Sofia. (Some of what I wrote about and attributed to Friday actually occurred on Saturday. The days get confused sometimes.) Bulgaria was occupied by the Ottoman Turks for 500 years before finally being freed in 1878.
We spent the afternoon and evening with Biss and Savella. As usual, the discussions covered a broad range of topics which would circle back around to their spiritual lives. Savella, who seems to be doing fairly well, was fascinated by the opportunity to get acquainted with Honza.
Fot a little more local color, I’ve thrown in a couple of pictures of the mountain outside the city. One is a street view from the main walking area near where I stay in Sofia. The other has in the forefront an Orthodox church which was rebuilt after the communist bombed it in the early 20th century.
My trip to Bulgaria had a unusual but wonderful twist. Honza Novak accompanied me. We arrived on Friday and had a little while to walk around before meeting Biss. We spent some time looking at archeological sites from the ancient Roman city of Serdica (Sofia). We saw a Roman road from the first century and two places where Christians met for worship in the 4th century. Roman Emperor Galerius was in Serdica (Sofia) in 311 AD when he signed the Edict of Toleration ending the Diocletian persecutions.
Later that day, we met Biss for the evening. It was so wonderful to see him up and walking again. He is so grateful for the prayers on his behalf and requests his brethren continue to remember him as his recovery continues. Our happy reunion included our spiritual discussions, plans for the weekend, and his opportunity to meet a Christian from another European country.
On Thursday I was invited to visit Robert, Tami, and their delightful children. From the moment Robert met me at the Metro, we discussed various Bible questions and spiritual topics. He is studious and thoughtful, so opportunity is a blessing for me. Tami and the kids were waiting anxiously for our arrival. Tomas and Kristina are growing up so fast and well! I would have brought Daniel home in my suitcase if I could. The evening was filled with fun, great food, wonderful Biblical discussions. It was, as always, a blessing to be with them.
On Tuesday I traveled to Bratislava to meet with Lucy. Upon arriving at the train station, I was reminded of a basic cultural difference between The CR and the States. After lugging my stuff from the hotel to the platform, I decided to rest by sitting on the back of one of these toy trucks used to load and unload trains. Not only wasn’t there a sign telling me I couldn’t sit there, but also when the driver came out to use the truck she didn’t even glance at me before taking off with it. She trusted me to have enough sense to get off.
Spring was in full glory in Slovakia. As I walked to where I would meet Lucy, I noticed the vine covered buildings and wished it was a little later in the season. As I waited for her at the Eurovea Mall, I was able to sit outside and watch the people relaxing along the Danube while I enjoyed some Mango-Mint Lemonade.
When Lucy arrived, we were able to spend a few hours together catching up, discussing various spiritual issues, and getting an update on the situation in the church in Bratislava. It was all encouraging and though the trip was lengthy, it was worthwhile.
The lecture in Brno was so encouraging. We had 10 first-time visitors from the community. Almost all of them not only participated well, but left contact info with requests for studies, etc. It was great to see how encouraged the Christians were. A couple of years ago I feared they might despair of doing these lectures for lack of response. This concern was misguided. They have not only persevered, but have continued to excel. They began the discussion of what we will do in the fall before we left the lecture hall.