Sunday on Sofia almost always begins with a walk through the city of about 2 miles to get to the meeting pace. As my mom used to say, “It gets my blood stirring.” It also takes me past some interesting places. I’m posting a photo that shows, 2nd century Roman ruins, the main local mosque, and a McDonalds. What a great combination!
The crowd for worship was a little small- 25-30, but lively and seemingly very happy to see me. That provide the kid of energy that makes it easy for a preacher to find his energy. Biss, as usual, did a wonderful job translating. That makes things so much easier as well. I’m posting a picture of the kid’s classroom. One of the positive signs for the group is the fact they now have several young families.
After worship, we went with Hristo, Vanya, and Natalie to “King Potato” got our traditional Sunday dinner. It could not believe how quickly the time slipped by. Before I knew it, it was 2:30 and time to say some sad farewells. As Biss and I made our way through a market in search of cooked pumpkin, we ran across three of the older members enjoying a long and late lunch. It was great to see them spending time together. No, we didn’t find the pumpkin, but we did find fresh pig’s feet.
We finally made our way back to my flat where we visited for a while before going and meeting Savella at an amazing sweet shop nearby. Sunday is a good day in Sofia.
Sofia will always have a special place in my heart. As unimpressive as it is compared to most other European capitals, I feel a comfortable warmth when I arrive. Much of that has to do with the people. The details of my arrival help to illustrate why I feel this. When I walked out of customs into the general area of the airport I was theoretically looking for someone holding a sign with the name of the company I was renting the flat from. In reality, and as I expected, I saw a big smile on a familiar face. As we began our trip into the center, he told me that they had changed my reservation. While that kid of news might in many cases create some concern, it simply made me curious. I had waited too late to. Are my reservation to get the place I had wanted, so I had to settle for something that was smaller, less nice, noticeably further from the center but significantly less expensive. His news was that for the same price they had upgraded to their premium property in the optimal location. What a nice start!
Meeting with Biss and Savella was a fine way to start my work there. Biss is almost fully recovered from his previous injury, and is in fine spirits. Savella is still facing a series of challenges related to her health and the difficulties of caring for her elderly father, it is doing reasonably well also. In all we were able to spend several hours together catching up, discussing spiritual issues, and planning for my days in Sofia. It was interesting to see what a meeting place the local McDonalds has become for older ladies to drink coffee or men to place chess where it is warm.
The holidays are a tough time to be away from home and family. Yet again this year I needed to decide between being home or missing one of the most important teaching opportunities I am afforded each year. The opportunity to spend a day teaching brethren who have traveled from around the Czech and Slovak Republics to listen won.
Some have asked what Czechs do for Thanksgiving. While their calendar has no shortage of holidays, this particular American holiday is not one they don’t recognize. None the less, Thursday was pleasant and productive. After touring an art exhibition, I ate supper with Honza at an iconic Prague riverfront cafe known as the Slavia. Since it is across from the National Theatre, it has historically been a hotbed of Czech creativity. Maybe some of that rubbed off. (The pic is one I filched from Google.)
Speaking of food- a favorite topic, I have been blessed this trip to have kitchens in most of the places I have stayed. I get desperate enough for home cooking to eat my own. This Norwegian salmon spinach omelet is one of my creations. Don’t worry, I’m keeping my day job. Much more excitingly, Milka makes ice cream!
When the church in Brno asked me to do a lecture on the Historical Jesus, we were all very unsure of what to expect. So many variables factor into how many people will show up that we have given up on trying to guess unless we happen to have found what seems like a can’t miss topic. Though we felt pretty good about the topic, none of us saw it as can’t miss. None the less, they worked really hard in preparing and advertising it. The anxiousness of wondering if people were receptive to the topic was short-lived. The first guests came about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to begin and continued coming. Jozef counted about 20 visitors, all but two of whom stayed not only for the 70 minute lecture but also for much of the Q&A at the end. After more than two hours, Jan finally had to announce to the still large number that our allotted time for the room had expired. All of the free material had been taken, a lecture topic for the next time had been requested, and several people let very detailed contact info. The Christians were euphoric. It was probably the best turnout we have had in more than a decade.
A Sunday in Brno is always special. Sunday was no exception. From our arrival at the meeting place, I was reminded of how much we take for granted. One of the heaters was broken while the other worked slowly enough to have little impact on the temperature while we were there. I was too wimpy to ever take my heavy coat off. Their only reaction was to shrug and laugh it off. We had a good number assembled for Brno, especially given the fact 4 regulars were missing. We had a total of 13 with 6 of that number being children. That is so encouraging. The group has wisely added some children’s songs into the songs they sing during the assembly. It was great to see the kids singing them. Tomas made a talk in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. It was obvious he had worked hard on it, and he did great. Seeing him continue to develop is wonderful. I was privileged to preach, and Jan did his typical amazing job of leading the songs. Jozef led us in prayer which included asking for the success of our lecture. After the assembly, we went to a nearby restaurant and visited for a while. What a great day!
Let me share a few sights from Prague as I try to give you a taste of daily life. Tired commuters try to relax as they ride a crowded subway. Moms need to be creative in protecting their kids from the elements. Most people still live fairly simple lives, but ridiculous opulence is available. I think countries that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving should be banned from suffering through Black Friday. Even amid the cold days and rampant consumerism, the quaint charms of Prague are still breathtaking.
Visiting with Robert and Tami is a staple and a highlight of each trip. Robert met me at the metro to lead me back to their village. While waiting for me to arrive, he had a chance encounter with lady who had visited the lecture the night before. They were able to have a hopefully productive chat while he waited. It is amazing that in a city of 1.2 million they had this encounter.
Tami cooked a great meal that we enjoyed together as I was blessed to visit with their maturing family. The kids are a delight. Thomas took some of the snap shots I’m posting. Robert and I were able to discuss some of the resources I brought him for a text he is working on, and Tami and I discussed a class she is preparing. As anticipated, it was an evening that was both pleasant and productive.
Hitting the ground running took on new meaning this trip. On Wednesday we had our lecture in Prague on the Bible and Archeology. The brethren worked hard once again to make it a success. I was able to play some small role by distributing some of the attractive ads like the one pictured. In addition to focusing on the actual visitors, the church has taken a long term view by putting effort into videoing the lectures to have them available on their web site. They have also begun using Facebook to advertise to a targeted audience.
It was a cold and rainy night, so the number of visitors was a bit small, but the lecture was well received and the discussion was lively. The lecture itself lasted an hour followed by another 45 minutes of Q&A. We had to call it to a halt because the time the hall was rented for expired. Based on the conversations, I anticipate additional discussions with at least two of the visitors. Please pray for that.
In addition to the photo of the ad, the photos include that period of anticipation as we wait to see who will show up, the equipment being set up, and a couple of the people in attendance.
Half of my life ago-26 years- we moved to Prague. That was made viable by events transpiring a year earlier. The prayers brethren had been praying for several decades were answered. The gospel was allowed to have “free course” in the former Eastern Bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe. As the Czechs celebrated their Velvet Revolution today it was clear, even amid the hearty protests, that freedom is flourishing here. I thank God for that. I’m awed by the changes that have occurred in society in general, but overwhelmed by the spiritual lives that I have seen begin and grow strong. On this truly special day let’s give thanks for the answered prayers, freedom we as Americans take for granted, and the power of the Gospel.
I arrived safely in Prague after a couple of uneventful flights. I think Lufthansa sharan the seats in regular coach when they created premium coach, but I can’t prove it. As Honza drove me from the airport into the city I saw snow for the first time since I was last here. The brisk weather is invigorating. After a good lunch we went to his house for a visit and planning session. Paula was as delightfully hospitable as usual. She made some card size ads for the lecture I was able to spend some time distributing before the lecture. She has a real knack for that sort of thing. Yes, I was as comfortable as I look in the picture she took. Their dog was comfortable too.