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.
Occasionally, I share a few photos of everyday life in the places where I am working. Hopefully they give folks a little better sense of what the lives of their brethren are like. These are from a wonderful part of Prague just out of the tourist area showing people going about their daily lives on a beautiful summer day.
Sunday was one of those Czech days that paradoxically somehow leaves you worn out but delightfully energized. The worship in Prague included visitors whose presence was so exciting it was almost distracting. An hour and a half after the service ended, folks were reluctantly pulling themselves away from visiting to return to their homes. My day of studies and meetings ended at about 7 when I got back to my flat, put the iPad on the charger for a bit, and headed out to my new favorite sidewalk café to unwind, people-watch, and catch up on my blog. That done, it’s time to work on some lessons for the Praho-Brno before giving it up for the night.
Saturday combined so many good things that it gets its own post. It included a walk down memory lane as I visited the city of Pardubice. We lived and worked there for some time back in the early 90’s, and, except for transport purposes, I haven’t been back in years. I was fortunate enough to travel there with Jakub to meet the rest of the family for an evening of discussion, planning, reminiscing, food, walking, and coffee. One of the great things that grew out of it was a concrete plan to revive the Praho-Brno Study that has been in hiatus since Covid hit. And, as it their character, the Lustykovi family came up big in working to make it happen. Recapturing the good that was lost during the worst days of the virus is incumbent on all of us.
The “Kamenice Study”, which this year will be help in the Moravian Highlands town of Nove Mesto, has been a major focus of this trip, and some weeks before. Hope and prayer that is will actually occur have abounded. Tentative preparations had to be made with evolving detail as it has become more and more likely. Thankfully, we are very optimistic at this point, and our final plans were made this week. We will be joined by Russ and Kay LaGrone, and Brent and Leah Dyer. Russ will be teaching our main morning sessions, and Brent will be doing a class for our young folks each day. Also, Peter Vandebuerie, from Belgium will do two of our evening sessions. Please keep this effort in your prayers.
The middle of the week flew by with meetings, studies, visits, and meals. This included both Christians as well as others I have come to know over the last few years. Thankfully the public transport is getting back to nearly normal. Getting together for the “regular” Tuesday study and meal with my young adults began with crushing hugs and some fought back tears. One of the visits included a quick trip through a museum of communism that was a powerful reminder of what life had been like- including some uranium mines used as punishment. Another study occurred in a beautiful park setting on a lovely day. I did manage to sneak in a run through the old city as well. With the way folks have been feeding me, I’ll need the exercise to be able to fit into my clothes. Over the year it has been relatively easy to pick back up where we left off, and despite the intervening span of time, this trip is proving to be no exception.
The process of settling in was a little more challenging because I had been gone for so long. Little things like getting a new sim card for my Czech cell phone all required attention. Covid related closures meant that stores, shops, cafes, etc. that had been my known places for years were gone and needed to be replaced. After being here through the lockdown last year, it was great to see life getting back to normal. And yes, the city is still beautiful, vibrant, and hopeful.
With the ever changing rules for travel I felt more trepidation about the trip than I ever have. I actually don’t know what was required of me when I landed in Prague, because for some reason they passed me through the border control without stopping me. As I approached the person checking papers, I spoke him to him in Czech. Perhaps he assumed I was Czech… Regardless of why, I was thankful and elated to be out of the airport and with Honza headed to our traditional post-flight meal (RC Cola’s are fancier than I remember them.) and Bible discussion. After 20 hours in a mask, it was nice to breathe the Prague air. It was late enough when I got to the flat that I really didn’t have time to settle in, but I was ecstatic about being on the ground and running.