Well, my optimism at finding free time during the week to do an additional update proved to be pleasantly unfounded. The schedule was packed with wonderful things. We needed the week to go well, and it exceeded even our hopes. The sad farewells were accompanied by a sense of excitement about the meeting next year.
Despite many being unable to attend because of Covid- related issues, we still had about 40 people representing 5 countries physically attending with a number of other who participated via Skype an additional two countries. In addition to the session for everyone, we had special classes for the children, teens/young adults, and ladies. On two afternoons, the children also played Bible- themed games outside. We also had singings on two evenings.
One of the improvements from previous years was that more time was built in for informal discussions and activities. These ranged from people simply sitting and talking or praying together in common areas, to the beloved tradition of walking for ice-cream, to using the gym for either basketball or soccer every night. (I enjoyed the basketball- full- court, better when I was doing it than I did the next day, but it was worth it.)It would be difficult to overestimate how much these people spending time together means to them. This is especially true of the younger and older children. Most of them have few or no kids in their local congregations to associate with, so this opportunity is precious to them.
Watching them grow and grow well is a wonderful blessing for me. All of the translators for the various studies were people in the early 20’s. In the portion of our “workshops” where a representative of each groups stands up to the address the group and share the results of their work together, a 16 year – old young man spoke for one group. In the Bible- related treasure hunt, one of the participants was several years younger than all the rest. He was there with his mom who is not a Christian, but has been visiting the assemblies of one of the Czech churches for a while now and, also joins us for our Thursday Skype studies. The other kids went far out of their way to make him feel like an important part of the group.
By the end of week folks were worn out from the activities as well as the lack of sleep. Me hanging out with the young adults till 2 AM became a common part of our ritual. A lot of good memories were made during the week, and faith grew stronger. Praise the Lord.
It is simply too busy to try to post every day about the study. Despite the frustrating challenges of Covid- travel, we have 37 people from three countries representing nine churches. The facilities, speakers (except for me), and the structure of the lectures are working out really well. I’ll try to sneak in an update tomorrow and then a report on the week by the weekend.
Sunday in Prague was an odd, but good day. Normally, when I am there, I am either telling them hello or goodbye. However, given the length of this trip as well as Covid-travel challenges within the EU, it was just one of three times I could be with them on a Sunday. We had visitors from America who were warmly greeted in the announcements followed by the laughing explanation that my presence wasn’t announced because I’m not a visitor. It was also an exciting transition day since most of the church was in the process of working their way to the Moravian Highlands for the week-long study. It also came with a sense of relief since both American families who had come were safely almost to the site of the study.
The worship itself was wonderful. It was well-attended as they slowly transition back from Covid. Kris (who I see as one of my Czech kids), the most recent convert, did a powerful job helping as we prepared to eat the Lord’s Super together. The lesson I presented seemed to be well-received. After that, I spent the afternoon in the home of one of the families here- relaxing and visiting with their family members who are not Christians before we hit the road to the highlands.
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.