Several years ago, a young man named Mira finished his army service in Prague and, upon his release prepared to go back to his home in south Bohemia not too far from the Austrian border. His life had changed during his time in the army. He had become a Christian. His desire was to help create a group of Christians in his home city of Ceske Budejovice. I’ll never forget the emotions I felt as Jim Smelser and I met with him in his hometown that first Sunday. Through the years many things have changed there. Several American brethren have done fine work both long and short term, and a solid group of mature Christians meets in that city.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to go there for the first time in more than a decade. (I’ve seen most of the brethren regularly through the years, but in different places.) I was only there for a couple of hours, but was able to eat and talk with Jindra about several topics important to both of us. It was pleasant, productive, and the pizza was great!
I took a few pictures along the way I want to share. Prague is known as the “City of 1000 Spires” for the picturesque skyline of churches. It might be known as the “City of 1000 Spires and 1 ugly, modern TV Tower.” At least when we lived in that neighborhood we could always find our way home. I also took a few shots in the main train station for those of you who remember what it looked like “back in the day.”
The landscape in south Bohemia is characterized by gently rolling hills, and a variety of types of farms. The solar farm was new, and indicative of how advanced the people are technologically. On the way back to break, the train broke down for an hour, but the thunderstorm made for some lovely cloud formations.
Saturday was my opportunity to spend some extra time with Biss and also Savella. The horrific injury Biss suffered a couple of years ago is now little more than a painful memory. Savella is having a very difficult time. Her work as well as the care she provides for her ailing father have gotten her down. I don’t know what she would do without help from Biss. Despite all of this, we managed to have a pleasant and productive visit.
It has been cool and rainy since my arrival, but I’ve still had the opportunity to take a few pictures capturing life in a continually evolving city. I love Sofia, though it’s hard for me to express why. It is t a fairy tale city like Prague or a stately city like Budapest or Vienna. It doesn’t have the energy or London or the overwhelming history of Rome, but I love it. I think part of it is the simplicity that is still evident- both good and bad. Perhaps something about the struggles resonates with a rural Mississippi upbringing. Even though I cant express it with words, perhaps the pictures will help. I do know I dearly love the people.
My Sundays in Sofia usually begin with a walk of a couple of miles to the place of worship. The quiet streets help me focus on the opportunities to come. The morning air felt brisk, though my flat not having heat may have have skewed my perception. The meeting place is located within a very attractive small commercial building in the city center. Arriving a bit earlier than usual gave me an opportunity to visit with the members. Their reception is so warm it touched me deeply. With Biss arriving a little later, an 89 year old man took the opportunity to come and talk for a while. His simple yet articulate thoughts about how God touches his life each day brought a tear to my eyes.Several people were traveling, but we still had in the 20’s for worship. Another younger family has joined them. This gives them a couple of teenagers and several younger children. The worship was uplifting, and my lesson was very well received. I could tell several people were having hard time figuring out where it was going until they had the hoped for “aha” moment.
After the assembly, I was able to talk to a young first time visitor who came as the result of being invited by a Nigerian named Samuel. The African brethren are huge assets to the work here in every way.
Hristo, the Bulgarian preacher, insisted on taking me to lunch. Despite some differences, our bond has grown quite strong. During lunch he asked me about how I would deal with a doctrinal issue in an upcoming lecture and to suggest some material to be translated into Bulgarian. A publisher in Vienna has offered to do the work gratis, and he wants to make the best use of the opportunity.
The day ended with Biss and I walking around the city, hitting our favorite cake place, and trying to fit days of talking into a few hours. There is never enough time, but it was a great day.
Our late arrival in Prague assured a short night before the chance to gather with our spiritual family on Sunday. None the less, an eager anticipation of seeing them put some spring into our steps as we walked the 10 minutes from our flat to the place the church here has met for several years. Robert and his older son were setting up the chairs for the meeting when we arrived. Shortly thereafter, Karel began to teach a class on Revelation 16. The extent of preparation he put into it was evident throughout the class.
As I stood before the group to preach I was struck once again by how deep my bond is with those people. I looked at my kids and realized I had known some of those brethren since we were the age of Elizabeth. It was evident they were feeling the same emotions. Robert was especially touched as he translated for Nathan leading one of our prayers.
After the assembly, the ladies gathered for a ladies’ class. The young lady who taught the class has only been a Christian a short time, but by all accounts, did a superb job. The men and children visited during the ladies’ class, and all enjoyed an American-style potluck. Before we realized it, five hours had passed and it was time to bid farewell.
Since I’m waiting to meet Biss and Savella, I thought I’d share a couple of street scenes from Prague and my accompanying thoughts. Seeing street beggars is very common, but they have changed their tactics a bit. Now, many if not most of them have dogs with them. Regardless of their motives, it does seem to make a difference in their success. People who I doubt would have stopped to give money to the beggar stop and show compassion for the dog. Is it always just a case of a person and his best friend being in dire straits? If the person destitute enough to beg, should he have a dog? Is the dog simply a cynical prop to evoke sympathy? Have people become so convoluted in their sense of value that a dog touches their hearts more than a human?
As I hurried down a street I have walked down countless time, I noticed a tourist standing in the middle of the street taking a picture. I couldn’t imagine why until I turned around and looked at the building he was shooting. It was beautiful. I had never noticed it before that moment despite the fact I had walked by it so many times. As I continued walking I reflected on the fact that the world around us is filled with beauty. This beauty can at least make us smile and will hopefully cause us to gratefully reflect on a creator. Too often we miss it as we hurry along in our own little worlds.
My weakness for drinking hot tea at sidewalk cafes provides lots of opportunities for people watching. In Prague that people watching includes at least once a trip seeing the Krishna’s walking and chanting as a group in their easily identifiable clothes. Through the years, I have seen them in very large numbers with what appeared to be sympathetic crowds following them. More recently I notice their numbers dwindling and the smaller number of onlookers being amused. Never the less, they persist in this expression of their faith. Of course, I’m saddened as I see this energy focused in a fruitless direction, but I’m also very impressed by the strength of their convictions and their willingness to publicly demonstrate it. May we be as courageous and energetic in seeking those who are seeking.
I often mention how much I enjoy train travel over here. It isn’t just because it is productive. Here are three random brief videos to give you a taste.
I wish the whole lecture thing was a science with a predictable formula, but alas it surely is not. When we show up at the venue and begin setting up, we are always filled with curiosity about who will show up. It isn’t simply the numbers, though that is a huge part of it. It is also the interest and seriousness of those who come. Tonight in Brno was no exception. The situation was made much more challenging by the fact Jan was preparing to bury his father tomorrow even as he tried to focus on translating the lecture.
While it is not a science, there are some discernible patterns. We felt good early on. By the time we began, we were as exhilarated as the somber circumstances would allow.
Approximately 20 visitors had gathered. While excited, we were not too surprised. The topic was one that visitors had suggested six months ago. It was an archeology lecture that would incorporate the alleged claims of Ron Wyatt. Among those attending were not only the newest Christians, but two other people who appear to be very close to the kingdom.
The lecture itself lasted about 70 minutes, and the people seemed surprised it was ending. After a lively half hour of Q&A, several of the people stayed around visiting and asking additional questions as we gently worked them out of the rented hall in which our time had expired. A lot on contact info was exchanged, and several people asked to know when I would be back for the next lecture. I have done many lectures here, but I don’t remember one that was more encouraging.
With some hesitation, I will post a couple of pictures since that is what I do on the blog. Unfortunately, the lightning from both front and back is poor and I am otherwise engaged. These were from the period during which folks were still filing in.
Synergy is: the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that isgreaterthan the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.
On some level we see this concept in successful evangelism. Baptisms occurring in South Bohemia yesterday demonstrate this in a powerful way.
Tomas and Andrea (husband and wife) were baptized about 2 years ago. This was the result of having found a web site created by Robert from Prague. Since Prague is quite far from their home city, they began driving an hour each way to worship in Brno. The brethren in Brno did a wonderful job of enveloping them with love and care. They visited with them, and Jan studied with them via Skype. Some brethren in the States who knew about the couple of their two children sent them small gifts connected with teaching the children about God. This genuinely dedicated young family that was nurtured by their spiritual family not only survived the distance they live from the other brethren, but they thrived.
I say this confidently not based only on my personal observations, but on the events of Sunday. You see, the people baptized were Tom’s mother and another friend. He worked with them, set an example, and taught them. So this is a beautiful story about the character and effort of Tom and Andrea, but it is more than that. It is about them, but not only about them. It is a story that has a lot of moving, Czech parts that did move and moved well together. (I’m sure my brief account omitted others who played very useful roles.) Each one of them played a part in the wonderful outcome.
All of them realize and rejoice in the fact that the real power is that of the gospel and, they are merely tools of service. Beyond the simple, deep joy of souls saved and the church in the Czech Republic growing, there is the realization this should provide lessons for we in the States.
Maybe the questions I’m asking myself will be helpful to someone else. Are we nurturing and preparing our spiritual young to utilize the opportunities uniquely theirs? Are we mindful of how our actions impact not only our brethren but those they may be trying to teach? Do we look for small and detailed ways that we may contribute to the process of sharing the gospel? Let’s be motivated by Tom and Andrea’s faith, and keep them and our two new brethren in our prayers.
Honza and Monika Vlcek have been very special to us for many years. I’m not sure how long we have known Honza, but he often carried our now 24-year-old around on his shoulders. Now we are privileged to see their children growing up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” We enjoyed spending several hours in their home on Saturday. Seeing our grown kids made them nostalgic and contemplative as they pondered how quickly the time passes. The visit was, as always, warm with wonderful hospitality being extended.
A train trip with the entire family brought back a flood of fond memories as well as reminding me that some things like the joy of fresh bread and cheese for a snack, the beauty of the countryside, or the kids picking at each other do not change.
We had about an hour to wander around the city before heading out to the meeting place. Many of the kids earliest memories are from Brno, so there were certain simple things they wanted to see. We met Jan and his family for a snack before worship. He is a having a very difficult time trying to help care for his ill father. Catching up was great, but it made us acutely aware of how little time we have together.
Our assembly began with the wonderful news that two people were baptized earlier in the day. (More about that in a separate post.). Fifteen Czechs were gathered to worship. For many of you that number will seem quite small, but for those who have followed the work over the last number of years you will rejoice. Of that 15, 8 were children. After the assembly we walked as a group to a nearby restaurant for a quick supper before our train which got us back to Prague at about 11.