The “middle of the weeks” have fallen into a pleasant routine as the time begins to wind down. Once again it included a number discussions with a variety of people both inside of Prague and in the highlands (totaling around 12 hours) as well as continuing to put final touches on the week-long series of studies that begin on Monday. The other two American families who are coming for the week are in the air and will hopefully have no Covid- related issues. The days are long and demanding, but in a wonderful way. For a little taste of life here, I’ll include a range of pictures that include a couple of views from my apartment, what a meal looks like that I throw together on those rare occasions when I’m eating here as opposed to with someone, a lake and an ancient Jewish cemetery in the forest of the highlands, and a sign on a build that was constructed a long time ago.
On Sunday we made the drive to Litomysl (the hometown of Smetana for you classical music folks) to meet with the brethren there. After a service that lasted almost 2 ½ hours (The preacher got long-winded in the sermon and class, but no one seemed to mind.), we drove back to the village for a quick lunch before our family final study of the weekend. As soon as that discussion ended, Jakub, Kris, Katka, and I hurried to catch the train that would take us back to Prague. Spending that trip dealing with three very drunk, unpleasant, middle-aged Slovak men created an interesting contrast of the darkness of the world with the light these wonderful brethren are courageously shining. I finished my evening by going to a small village in the suburbs for supper to meet an old friend at a restaurant that, through a loop-hole, had managed to stay open during the lockdown last year providing me a place to get a meal that I hadn’t cooked.
Saturday was a beautiful day in the highlands. A “hey, let’s try this” moment from a couple of weeks earlier turned into a day of study that included not only people from around the country but also a family from Slovakia and a man from Romania. As a sign of the times, we also had several people join via Skype from various places. In our morning session I used the account of Abraham offering Isaac in Gen. 22 to suggest a hermeneutical paradigm for how we can approach any narrative of an historical event in the Bible to properly work through historical, cultural, linguistic, and etc. factors of the initial setting to finding the significance of the story in our lives today. When we broke to cook sausages over a fire for our lunch, a soccer game broke out- after all, this is the Czech Republic.
The afternoon was a workshop with the folks broken up into multiple groups with the assignment of choosing an OT story and applying the paradigm. We finished with each group presenting a summary of their process and conclusion. As I moved around from group to group listening to them dive into and discuss the word- well, I’m not sure how to express how profoundly moved I was by what I was seeing.
When the meeting broke up, several of the guys went to Marek’s lake for a swim and then a couple of eschewed the vehicle in favor of the hike back through the forest that would get us back to the village. A supper of homemade Russian borscht was on the table when we got back to the house. We relaxed before I had one last informal session with the young folks and ended an amazing day.
After a busy day, I joined Kris and Katka at the train station for our train to Pardubice where Marek was meeting us. We used the time well and got the weekend of study off to a good start. We got to the village about 5 minutes before the scheduled 7:00 start for the first lecture. I had to catch my breath a bit and refocus, but that was aided by a better than expected turnout for the study. By about 9 we were finished and had time for the really good Czech-style hamburgers Pavla had prepared.
The time is flying by. It’s been an eclectic mid-week. I have studies/discussions with several people Christian and not over an amazing range of questions including Titus, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, attitudes towards the word, impact of religious hypocrites, and the family- to name most of them. I did have a couple of studies canceled because of unforeseen circumstances folks were dealing with. I hated that, but honestly it may have been a blessing. It gave me some extra time to prepare for a couple of major studies that are coming up- including one that begins tomorrow and lasts through Sunday. I have about 12 hours of classes during that time. Also, it let me finally finish up my lessons for the “Kamenice” Study. Speaking of which, every time I think the organizational issues are put to bed… It does still seem to be coming together nicely.
I was scheduled to be in Brno on Sunday, so I touched base with Jan again on Saturday night about what time I would arrive. Following up on that, with my train a couple of hours out of Brno, I messaged him the time of my arrival. His response broke my heart for him. He wrote that his mom had just died (about 30 minutes earlier), so he would be late. A little less than an hour after the family was afforded the finally “viewing,” he and I were sitting together near the meeting place as I made a poor effort to comfort him. We talked for a while before arranging the room for the assembly. Shortly before we started, his wife and young children showed up for worship. Using his amazing talent, he led the singing. At one point, I realized that he had stopped singing as he silently wept. His 10-year-old son went to hug him. We finished the song, continued on with the service, and at the end he made the normal closing remarks. It was an amazing testimony of faith and courage.
On a different note, the service was well-attended including visitors from Prague, locally, and a couple from England (via Skype) who found the group via its website all joined in the meeting. After the worship, we visited for a while, and the children from Brno and from Prague were able to spend time together.
Saturday was bittersweet as it combined the wonderful opportunities technology affords with the frustration of still having limited mobility. For at least a couple of months before my trip, I felt confident that I would finally be able to study with this wonderful family, who I believe are very near the kingdom, face to face. While this did not become possible, I am still able to join them for study through Skype.
Thirty-one years ago, as of last month, I was traveling from the eastern most part of Czechoslovakia to Prague in what from the map looked to be a one-day drive. After hours and hours of winding two-lane highways through the mountains, I reached a city I had heard of but knew almost nothing about. With midnight approaching, I knew I would not make it to Prague until the next day. Wearily, I walked into the first hotel I saw and asked for a room. It had been a grand hotel inits day- before WW1. The price was ridiculously high- a little over 100 USD, but I was done. Today, I checked into that hotel again. This time, because there was a special offer from Expedia that made it the least expensive place to stay near where I need to be. Covid has wreaked havoc on the travel industry here. Oh yeah, the name of that city- Brno.
The middle of the week has, once again been busy and productive. It has included meetings and studies with an interesting combination of people, venues, and attitudes towards faith. I’ll share a couple of highlights to illustrate the diversity of opportunities. Tuesday included an intensive discussion with one of the young Christians, as per his request, about the relationship between grace and the client- patron system of the Greco-Roman world. Other opportunities included use tech to work with folks over here I still don’t have personal access to. At the other end of the spectrum, one three-hour study was conducted on a protracted walk. This is really a nice break from sitting in my flat or even a café to study. Topics ranged from fellowship, to how to teach young people, to addressing some personal issues. One opportunity even had me helping inspect a construction project.
Sandwiched between all of this was putting the final, final touches on the details for the Kamenice Study as well as spending some time working on my presentations for that week.
On a bit of a darkly humorous note, the impact of Covid is still being seen. At lunch one day in the outside seating area of a restaurant, I had a couple of the bread crumbs from the fried fillet “go down the wrong way.” I began quietly coughing. It was in a village where the coke still comes in the 8 oz bottles, so I didn’t want to finish it off to try to wash it down. So, I continued to cough. As I did so, my lunch companion began to glance around at the other tables. Trying not to laugh and cough is difficult, so I continued to do both- more loudly. His looking around took on added intensity. As it did so, my coughing and laughing kicked up a notch. Finally, he gave me his drink to finish off. I had been eye-balling it anyway. As talked about it later, he said he wasn’t even consciously aware that he had been uneasily looking around. It’s interesting how patterns of behavior can develop without us being aware of them. Let’s try to be introspective enough to recognize and evaluate ours.
The importance of teaching the next generation is not lost on the Czechs, and I’m thankful to have some small role in that. When I showed up on Monday to visit the Vlk’s, Honza asked the children if they would like to have a Bible study with “streda Bil” (Uncle Bill.) It wasn’t staged, so I was curious to see how they would respond… after all, they are kids… Their response, “yes, of course” touched my heart. Bibles in hand, they were ready to read. We had a class as we waited on the food to arrive. After a meal of ordered pizza that fit the family’s busy work schedule, we visited about current events until we transitioned into a, “but in the days of Hosea” intro into the adult study that lasted late. It was a great night.