It was good to settle back into Prague for the last leg of the trip. The weather is beautiful and the opportunities are exciting. I even braved the ocularly overloaded tourists to walk down to the river. I’ve been able to do some work on the last Prague lecture. They didn’t request the topic quite early enough for me to do all the work on it I wanted to do before heading over. I have studies with a couple of non-Christians I have been slowly making some progress with. I have been able to spend a few hours visiting and studying with one of the young men from the Vysocina. As a spillover from my lecture research, I also provided some help for another Christian who has been working on the question of infant baptism.
I flew directly from Sofia to Tel Aviv to meet Honza for a quick Israel trip before heading back to Prague later in the week. We ran down through the Jezreel Valley, spent a few hours at some newly opened parts of the Davidson Center, and drove to Hebron. Though it was a very short time, it was extremely productive on several counts. 1) Honza and I had several hours each day of intensive study. 2) I was able to do some research for the next Brno lecture. 3) It was educational and faith building for me. 4) I met a young Iranian Jew who has become cynical about faith in God as the result of a very conservative Jewish upbringing. Our discussions that began then are continuing now. (The funds for this were not a part of the expensive money I raised for the trip.)
Sunday got off to an interesting start. I had told Biss I planned to take the metro to near the meeting place to assure an early arrival. I usually walk, but the the flat I had booked for this trip was about a 45 minute walk. As I was about to enter the metro, Biss walked by and convinced me to walk with him. Had it not been for a national holiday that included a military parade, it would have worked out reasonably well. As it was, we arrived about to 10 minuets late. (We did, however, get to see the Bulgarian army.) Everyone was in good spirits about it, and the parade was a great segue into the sermon, so turned out well.
The growing and evolving makeup of the group was evident. Some of the African families seem more settled in. A young Bulgarian couple recently converted, appear to have amazing potential. Of course, Rafik’s family has provided a huge boost. There are now 3 teenagers and 6 or 7 younger kids. The group stayed engaged during the lesson and were appreciative afterwards. Their faith and growth is surely a blessing to me.
We went to our traditional restaurant after lunch and stayed for a couple of hours visiting. It gave me a better chance to get acquainted with the Rafik’s amazing kids. The middle child proved positively annoying with her language skills. She speaks: Arabic, Turkish, Bulgarian, and English. More impressively, she and her siblings are good kids who love the Lord and are thankful for their blessings.
After a tearful farewell, Biss and I left the others and made our way back into the city center. We spent another couple of hours together talking and studying before we too parted ways. I’m still trying to process all my feelings and observations about these good brethren and their future. At present, “wow!”is the best I can do.
Saturday morning Biss and I met Vanya and Hristo for a hike on Vitosha. This is the mountain that lies on the edge of the city. We loved hiking there during our time in Sofia, and this trip brought back great memories. The weather was perfect and company was comfortable. After walking for a while we found ourselves at a mountain hotel/restaurant at about 5500 ft. (We didn’t climb nearly all of that.) the weather was so nice that we enjoyed a typical Bulgarian lunch at an outside table.
Following the meal, we made our way back into the a suburb of the city to visit an Egyptian family. Rafik, his wife Zhizhi, their daughters, Ruzhana and Mariam, and their son Philo are refugees because of their faith. When the tragically misnamed “Arab Spring”began to produce its noxious fruit in Egypt this godly family chose to flee as they saw more and more self-identifying Christians slaughtered for their faith.
Rafik, who had studied himself out of the Coptic faith while working to evangelize Muslims in his home country traveled with his family to the safety of Turkey. Had he been less driven to teach others, they would likely still be there and doing fine. However, he is not only tireless as a teacher, he is very successful. Before too long he had baptized between 30-40 people. For the first two years of this work he did not realize he was committing a capital crime. Upon learning this he continued to teach and baptize until a local police chief warned him to once again uproot his family. After spending a short time in Jordan, he was granted temporary refugee status and allowed to move to Bulgaria. Their status has to this point left him unable to get steady work. As he continues to grind through the paperwork, he studies via Skype with brethren in Turkey on a daily basis, is working to teach refugees in Bulgaria, and is helping out with various aspects of the church’s work. As he waits and does this work a couple of the brethren in Sofia are providing the support that is keeping food on the table. (I’ll post their pics in the next post.)
The trip to Sofia was uneventful with a three hour layover in Vienna. That didn’t give me enough time to go into the city, it I did let me bunker down and get some work done. The early part of the day on Friday not only let me continue doing some lesson preparation for Sunday, it also gave me time to do some laundry. (The biohazard label was removed from my suitcase.) that evening I met Biss so we could travel together to see Hristo and Vanya. We were running a bit late because Biss thought Hristo was pulled over on the side of a very busy highway waiting on us. We rushed to his SUV to get in, and I grabbed the handle of the back door to jump in only to find it locked. Thankfully, the actual owner of the car didn’t get too stressed out about it.
When Hristo arrived and picked us up, he drove us to their modest flat in the suburbs where Vanya had prepared a delightful meal of yoghurt and cucumber soup, a modified Shopska salad, and some wonderful kebabs. We spent the evening discussing how to deal with difficult situations, catching up on the local work, assessing how to address some current needs, and planning my short visit. It was an informative and productive evening with some good and sincere folks. Yes, the food was great, too.
I spent most of Wednesday with the Novák family in their home. It was a beautiful day, so we spent most of it in their garden. Everything is green and in bloom. Honza grilled steaks to go with the mashed potatoes, salad, and fruit dessert Pavla made. Duty the five hours that followed we laughed, reminisced, prayed, studied, and planned together. It was the kind of visit only friends of many years who have shared both ups and downs can experience. In addition to looking at some challenging passages from Ecclesiastes 9, we discussed a book entitled Leadership and Self-deception. I had mentioned it a week earlier, so he had already purchased and read much of it.
Tuesday was a much more intense day as we worked around travel schedules and other activities. Still we managed to fit in 4 studies, time in prayer, and a good discussion of our plans for doing the same type of study this fall. Jakub and I were able to travel together by train back to Prague. This afforded us a great time to visit and continue with some study. As I reflect on my day in Zderaz (this village), I’m amazed at the faith and dedication of these good brethren. Marek and Pavla’s hospitality was exemplary. Talking with the young people, watching them interact with one another, hearing them pray, and seeing their strong desire to grow in the Lord was gratifying and humbling. Being able to be a part of this was rewarding.