I encountered some internet problems, during the latter days of the trip, so I’ll catch up and finish up by giving more of a topical approach. The assembly on Sunday was quite encouraging. A theme of thanksgiving had been selected for the day and all parts of the worship were built around that. While it’s always great to be reminded of that, the economic circumstances in Bulgaria seem to leave folks especially vulnerable to not appreciating what they do have. The sermon was very graciously received and hopefully productive After the worship the group enjoyed a Bulgarian styled potluck. Spending time with Biss is always a highlight of the trip. He plays a huge and productive role in the work there, and there are always many things he is anxious to discuss. During the days in Bulgaria we spent about 16 hours together. I was also able to spend time with Savella. She is still adjusting to the death if her father and in connection with that having some legal issues with their flat. I was also able to meet with Hristo and Vanya on a couple of different occasions.
Meeting with Rafik and his family was near the top of my to-do list for Sofia, and I was able to spend a number of hours with them as well. I also met with several other of the brethren as well. It’s been very encouraging to see how these relationships have grown over the years. As the group grows, it is facing some challenges that I was asked to help resolve. I also met a couple of times with a man I met on my last visit who wanted to discuss spiritual things. Things there did not progress as much as I had hoped, but that seems to have been more of a time issue that a lack of interest. I also met and talked to another person I’m anxious to follow up with next trip.
The trip to Sofia began innocently enough. The trip to the airport in Prague is always a very difficult one as I ponder where I can truly be of greatest value in my work at this point in my life. Nevertheless, I was excited about the opportunities in Bulgaria that had presented themselves.
The Sofia Airport has instituted a program to help ensure that fair taxis are available, and I chose one I felt good about. Shortly after we left the airport, I saw a car barreling towards us through an intersection. I knew we were about to get T-boned on my side of the car. As I watched it happen, I realized I was probably in trouble. However, the impact came at the best possible place given that scenario. It hit the front door post of my door. The post absorbed most of the energy, and I was unhurt. Within a couple of minutes another taxi from the same company picked me up, and I was able to get on with my day. I was truly, truly, blessed. After settling in, I was able to spend some time making plans with Biss and then working on a lesson request for the following Sunday that I didn’t get until late.
Not to be outdone, Biss was in a bicycle wreck the following day. A parked driver suddenly opened his door out across the bike lane, and Biss hit it. He too was unharmed. That didn’t stop him from spending a delightful evening with us as I hosted Rafik and his family for a meal. This delightful family continues to have thing fall into place in their lives, and they are a huge boost to the church.
Doing lectures in Prague for the last couple of years has been a question of perseverance for the church. They kept tweaking various aspects of what they tried, but for a while it seemed like nothing worked very well as far as generating visitors. This time they went all out in exploring different possible venues. I think they lost count of how many rejections they received. Finally, they found a culture house on the northern outskirts of the city that agreed to rent a lecture hall. Though it is on the edge of the city, it is surrounded by huge apartment buildings. Though the crowd wasn’t huge, there were several visitors from the neighborhood. They came, listened carefully, participated in the 30-minute Q&A at the end, and three of them stayed another half hour or so to chat with us individually. We are optimistic that couple of them will visit the assembly soon. Needless to say, the brethren here were the most encouraged they have been in a while.
During my spring visit to Brno, the folks asked me to develop a lecture on the Isaiah and Hezekiah seals. The archeology stuff has proven to be successful in appealing to visitors. I was excited about the challenge, and optimistic about the outcome. When we got to the rented lecture hall last night we were early enough to have a few minutes to settle in and get set up before people started arriving- or so we thought. When we went inside the room we were more than a little surprised to see that several visitors were already there. We didn’t get an exact count, but I know we had more than 20 visitors in addition to our own folks. Based on the feedback and the amount of material people took with them, the presentation was well received. Hopefully that will translate into additional contact with some of these people. At the very least I think some of them will come back for the lecture in the spring.
It isn’t practical to try to detail each study I have during the these trips, but I would like to try to summarize and make some general statements. Most of the studies are with the brethren here. The most common topic this trip has rearing children. That isn’t new. I think that may be the focus on the next village study. In a couple of cases, I have reconnected with some people from the past whose interest has waned. The teenage son of one of the members from Brno has been a particularly encouraging example of this. The first generation of folks here is aging a bit, so dealing with health issues has started coming up as well. A few of the studies have been the ever important let talk about this text. The time has been productively spent. This, in part, is the result of the longstanding relationship we have that makes the people feel very comfortable in opening up about what they are dealing with.
The days in the village were delightful on so many levels. The countryside is beautiful, especially with the fall colors. It was great to see the plan of the Lustyk family continuing to come to together in a such productive way. The people, perhaps especially the young people, who so need to learn to know and love each other spent a lot of quality time together. I was blessed with not only about 10 hours of scheduled teaching time over the three days, but also countless other hours of informal study and discussion. Yes, we are already trying to firm up some plans to do it again in the spring. What a great weekend!
Sunday was hectic, busy, fun, and so rewarding. We drove to Litomysl for the worship. With the folks in town from various places for the weekend of classes, it was difficult to add enough chairs for everyone to have a seat. I taught a class and preached while six other men played some leading role in the assembly. It was wonderful to see familiar faces, including one lady I have known for 25 years. After a wonderfully encouraging gathering, we drove back to the village. We enjoyed a lunch that included Czech dumplings and hand-pulled strudel. Part of me wanted a nap after the meal, but I was happy to have another very good crowd gathered for a last 90-minute study. Shortly after we finished, people began making their way home, and I began the process of getting to Brno for the lecture the following evening.
Saturday began with the study with the younger children. It is wonderful to see how they are growing. They all call me “Uncle Bill.” I like that. Immediately after that class, Marek and I studied with a Bulgarian couple who live in London via Skype. We have done this often enough to develop a good relationship. I hope to be able to study with them face to face when they travel to Bulgaria next fall. When we finished the study, several of us together to the former village of Lezaky. This small town along with Lidice were the two Czech villages that the Nazis destroyed by burning the houses and killing the inhabitants as retaliation for the killing of Heydrich during the Second World War. It was a beautiful place, but the horrors of what happened there cast a pall over the visit.
After a late (3:00 PM) lunch, we had the class for the college age students who were there. That included one young man that Vitek has just began studying with. Following supper, we all gathered again for the last structured study of the day. An older couple that has been visiting the assembly of the Litomysl church came to that class.
The weekend study in the highlands village has quickly become one of the highlights of each trip. On Friday I traveled by train to Pardubice. Given the role the work in Pardubice played in the genesis of the church in Litomsyl, I always feel nostalgic when my travels take me there. Marek came by car to pick me up, and as we traveled he filled me in one a number of good things going on with the Christians in the area. We had some time before supper and as we awaited the arrival of others, so he took me for a walk in the forest to see a quarry that his family has an interest in. It’s was lovely area, and the exercise helped me get some blood flowing again after the trip.
After a wonderful, typical Czech supper we had our first session. More than 20 of us gathered in their living room for the first study. After I presented some material on the archeology and geography of the last hours in the life of Jesus, we had another 30 minutes or so of lively discussion before settling in for the night.
Thursday was a very unusual day in that I did not have any studies scheduled. I spent the day catching up on trivial things like laundry as well as doing some final prep work for the weekend in the Czech Highlands. In some ways having a day like this troubles me, but on the other hand it lets me recharge my battery just a bit and hopefully helps me be more productive for one of the most important opportunities I have during my trip. (It also makes my backpack smell better as I travel.)