A 3-hour layover in Vienna made the trip to Sofia turned into an all-day affair. The direct flights between Prague and Sofia are seasonal. Thankfully I arrived safely, and had only the briefest flashback when we passed the scene of the accident I was in last time here. The weather is warmer than in Prague, and people are getting out and enjoying it. As I walked through the streets of the city center, I was once again struck by how, despite the westernization and modernization, things haven’t changed that much in the last 20 years. It is still a tough place for older people with mobility issues. (She seemed surprised when I opened the door for her.) You can find a shop that will sell you laundry pods individually. There lots of Baklava available. (The lady who owns the AirBnB flat I am in left me some homemade. Yes, Sofia is still the kind of place where you can safely eat those.) Mothers with their babies still stop to chat on the neighborhood sidewalks, and children still play soccer in the schoolyards after classes have ended. And, yes, you do still need to watch where you step.
After Brno, I had a couple of days in Prague. Though it was a brief stay (enough so I really didn’t unpack), I did manage to have some great discussions. These included meeting with some of my favorite young people to continue a discussion of communication in marriage, and another with a dear old friend to continue helping edit some material he is working on.
The trip from Bratislava wasn’t pleasantly uneventful. The train allowed me to get some needed work done. Upon arriving in Brno, I made my way to a hotel where they smile and greet me by name when I walk in the door. I had time to eat, go to the gym, and review my notes before time for the lecture. I always enjoy a walk through the main square. On the way to get some food, I saw some old friends who must feel they are holding the weight of the world on their shoulders.
We didn’t know how many to expect for this lecture. We didn’t have the resources we have had for others to advertise, and the topic- “Finding Unity Among Believers” didn’t seem as attractive as some of our other topics. We were pleasantly surprised by both the turnout and the response to the material. We had about 16 visitors, most of whom were at our lectures for the first time. The Q&A was lively but positive. There will follow up studies with some of the visitors. After we finished, Jan and I had a little while to visit before we parted ways. Brno is another place where I never have enough time.
Though just a quick trip, going to see Lucy in Bratislava was, as always, worth the effort. It had been some time since I had managed to do that, and it was great to catch up on her life over some salmon lasagna. She is doing well, and her faith is strong.
Sunday brings the added joy of being with brethren in Litomysl who are not able to attend the study session in the village. Some of these connections go back 25+ years. It’s a family reunion on an amazing level. Even with extra chairs brought out, there was almost no space free. We praised and celebrated together our Lord, and I was privileged to speak a couple of times during this. We had several visitors which was not only encouraging, but helped me to preview the lecture I was to do in Brno the following evening. The response was gratifying in that the visitors said they were challenge to think about a message of how those who self-identify as Christians might achieve unity.
After services, we traveled back to the village for a quick but great lunch followed by our final group study. I didn’t bother to try to count the hours spent in the word, but know it was wonderful. When all was done, we said our farewells, scheduled studies with the college kids in Prague for the following week, and went to the train station together. They for Prague, and I for Bratislava.
As busy as the first day always seems, it’s the second day that is more chaotic and challenging. The day began with a study for the younger children. After a very short break, Marek and I met with a Bulgarian couple who live in England via Skype for another study. He is a physicist who always brings interesting thoughts into our time together. After a break for lunch, I had a study with the college aged group. The topic they had requested was not only very relevant, but one they felt passionate about. I am amazed and humbled by their hunger and love for the Lord. Though it was really cold and rainy, as per tradition, we made an afternoon trip to an area tourist site of interest. This time it was to a collection of houses from about 300 years ago. Though the weather was miserable, I was really glad to get out and “stir around” a bit. After a break for super, we had our second study for the whole group. As I was ready to sleep, I worked back through the schedule for the day and realized that I had been in about 9 hours of study and discussion. It was one of those wonderful days that sticks with you for a long time.
The long weekend in Zderaz has come to be an absolute joy. The pastoral setting and impeccable hospitality pale in comparison to the excitement of being with spiritual family hungry for the fellowship and spiritual feeding. The ride with Marek from the train station to the farmhouse was a lively combination of catching up, planning, and spiritual sharing. I made a point to arrive early enough to continue the ongoing study with Kris and Katka before others arrived. Kris wasn’t feeling well, and Katka was constantly working to help with preparations, but even so we had a good time for discussion.
After a delightful evening meal, the entire group gathered for our introductory discussion of eschatological issues focused on death, the judgement, and what if anything is going on in between. The folks there had requested this topic in connection with some studies they were having with friends and family, so I was happy to assist as best I could. In all, we put together about 5 hours of study that day before spending a while together visiting and relaxing in a beautiful and warm setting.