“Always expect the unexpected” has been the mantra for years of folks who have lived in Eastern Europe. I felt like I had basically moved beyond that. My trips were typically structured in such a way that surprises seldom occurred. I knew what to expect and what to prepare for. That’s where I was mentally on March 1 when I flew out of Orlando for Prague.
- Sundays- planned down to the details of which trains to take.
- Marriage seminar- all set up.
- Brno study- organized and prepared.
- Prague and Brno lectures- ready to go.
- Topics for small group studies- check.
- Evenings to visit various families- done.
- Time in the village- last minute, but fit in perfectly.
- Sofia- mapped out.
It would be a very busy and structured trip. Except for Sofia and the Brno lecture, it all worked out as planned. Then, something else happened. Covid-19.
The swiftness with which life changed was surreal. The government’s response was faster and more austere than I would have then imagined possible. Overnight things shut down. Only food and drug stores were open. Masks became mandatory anywhere outside your home. All travel deemed non-essential was banned.
In many ways, the impact on brethren there was similar to here. They had to grapple with how to be good citizens while still doing what their consciences called on them to do as Christians. Our situation there was also different in some significant ways. The groups there are relatively small. The largest might have 30 on a good Sunday. They don’t own property or have official status, and they generally fly under the radar. While complying with the letter of the law by stopping assembling in their rented facilities, there were various ways they could continue their work. They counted me as family, and the government included spiritual counseling as essential services from the beginning. Thus, with adjustments, the work not only continued, but continue at a frenetic pace.
The question that loomed throughout this was, “When would I be able to travel back to the States?” International flights were being canceled at a dramatic frequency- often at the last minute. The cynic in me believes that some airlines kept posting flights and selling tickets they knew wouldn’t fly to keep some cash flow going. My return flight was canceled as was a flight for a few days later. My next scheduled flight was for April 15.
As the busy days passed, we were settling into a new norm in the work. It was a hybrid-life. Each Sunday, in a couple of the cities, a small group would meet in the home of one of the members while the rest of the group would join via Skype. I alternated weekends between these groups until restrictions eased enough that normal gatherings were allowed again. Bible studies with small groups and individuals continued throughout the entire time. These studies were about 50/50 via tech and face-2-face. I spent three weekends in the village with groups of various sizes. Most of the studies there were F2F, but a few of them were distance studies. We typically had 5-6 classes a day and spent the rest of our time just visiting, eating home cooking, or biking and hiking in the beautiful highlands. Another family, who lives on the edge of Prague , would have me out a couple of times a week for a few hours. We would visit, eat, and spend hours studying together- sometimes as we walked/sat in a huge park. I had the opportunity to run a few miles every other day through streets that were eerily empty. (The Czech government knew from the outset that being outside and getting exercise was a good thing.)
If you have been mentally doing the math, you realize we are past April 15 now. That flight was canceled as well as two different flights for May 1. Then a May 16 flight was canceled. I finally flew on May 20. This process was stressful, but it could have been much worse. In each case, I knew 3-4 days in advance. I didn’t choose flights that were supposedly just starting back. I chose those that would have a bit of a history of actually flying before my date. So, I never found myself with classes canceled, no accommodations, (That would have been a big mess.) or even worse- stranded in the international section of an airport. Also, my Airbnb flat was comfortable, well located, and continued to be available. There were never any shortages of basics- not even toilet paper. I had a wonderful support group of brethren I have known for, in some cases, almost 30 years. They tried to be sincere in hoping I would finally make it back to Florida, but they struggled with that. I had folks back at Edgewood who were sympathetic with my situation. My family was very supportive. Many brethren in the States were keeping me in their prayers. Also, the work was incredibly encouraging and productive. All of these things were simply manifestations of God’s blessings and care for an unworthy son.
During these days, I had around 160 studies/sermons/classes. An hour each was the standard length. It reached the point where my time was filled with either actually doing the studies or preparing for them. It was the work of an evangelist in its truest sense. The types of studies varied greatly. Each Tuesday evening I was in Prague with a group of college students. I would cook supper and then we studied for an hour or two. On Thursday and Sunday evenings, we had a large, often hybrid, group study that included people from as many as 6 different countries. In the village the studies varied from one to one to several people at a time with only short breaks in between. Other studies were walking through the forest with just one or two. Several times a week I would Skype with and individual or a family. In addition to this, I was recording and posting a video or two each week for our Edgewood folks.
These studies included a good combination of Christians and non-Christians. The studies with non-Christians increased as restrictions were eased. It included people from the Czech Republic, Austria, England, Bulgaria, the US (not me), Lithuania, and Moldova. It included ages ranging from small children to the elderly. Topics included some needed stuff closely connected to the Covid-19 problem, some detailed textual studies- especially the minor prophets, lessons on home and family, some deep digging into various theological/philosophical topics, and some from practical “how to make tomorrow a better day” sort of stuff. Despite the challenges, it was a wonderfully encouraging and successful, long trip. It demonstrated how much good can still be done there, and was somewhat reminiscent of the initial experience in 1990.
Several of you have asked me about the additional financial burden the addition 60 days in Prague created. I deferred giving any actual details until I knew when I would get home. While I believe it was worth it, the cost was not insubstantial. I’m fighting what I feel will be a losing battle for any refund or credit on the initial return flight. Consequently, I had to buy a new ticket home that costs 1100.00. Because of the crash in tourism, accommodations were much cheaper than normal, but it was still and addition couple of months, so that costs 1400.00. The daily living expenses amounted to about another 1200.00. Any help in defraying these expenses would be appreciated.
Thanks so much for your interest and prayers. I feel very blessed to have people who are my partners in the work. I plan to post this on my blog page as well as a bunch of pictures that go with the story, so feel free to visit that page. May God bless you in His service.