CZR 2015 Update # 1 – Delays, London, and Arrival
After a two hour delay in Little Rock, literally running through the DFW Airport and blocking the door from being closed until Zach and Shane Caldwell arrived with guitars in tow, we finally left the United States at 9:45 PM Monday. After flying eight-and-a-half hours over the Pacific Ocean, we arrived in a very hot London for a six hour layover. After six miles of walking through London – Hyde Park is huge – and a two hour flight to Prague, we arrived in the Czech Republic at 9:45 PM Tuesday night. Luggage retrieval and a short one hour ride landed us at Mlyn Brejlov just before midnight. Believe it or not, most of the team woke up at 5:30 AM but seemed to be well rested and ready for a fantastic Czech breakfast of bread, cold cuts, and raw vegetables. We are so excited to finally be here.
Everyone has been surprisingly energetic and cooperative on one of the hardest trips over the Pond I have made (this is # 26 for me). We met Bob Gerdes here at Brejlov (he is an intern with Josiah Venture for the entire summer) and he is doing great. A few people are a little under the weather but we seem to be on top of it now; however, I would appreciate your prayers for our health.
Wednesday and Thursday will be American team training and then we travel to camp on Friday. We are here with churches from California, Illinois, and Texas. Obviously, we are the most prepared, most talented, best looking, and most clearly humble team here. Seriously, we have a great team this year, and I am excited about what lies ahead.
CZR 2015 Update # 2 – Travel, Set-up, and Arrival
Friday was our day of travel from American team training south of Prague to our camp in the northern part of the country. The day was pretty hot (82 F) with no air conditioning on the trains and buses, but we had a good time with a quick walk through part of Prague on the way to Pardubice. In Pardubice, which is where the church we partner with is located, we were joined by a few more members of the youth group and then took a bus to Kořenov near the Polish border just east of Liberic.
We arrived at camp and started setting up things for camp by preparing our classrooms, setting up the sports areas, and getting moved into our home for the next full week. We all got a good night of sleep and had a little time to rest, but we are on the verge of a hurricane of students arriving. This year we have been told that the students will be younger than the previous years (15-19 rather than 17-24) and that we will have mostly new campers rather than returning campers. This is very exciting and will also be a challenge in many ways.
The bus will arrive in less than an hour. Please pray that our connections will be made quickly and that the camp will start out with a real positive mood. The theme this year is “You are Here” and asks the students to think of where they are and where they want to be in life. It is a great context to share the Gospel. We are excited, a little scared, and ready to go. Keep us in your prayers.
CZR 2015 Update # 3 – Full Throttle Camp Edition
It is Monday afternoon and we are in high gear. The arrival of the campers on Saturday was great. There were just enough of the old familiar faces and an amazing crew of new campers. While the overall age of the camp seems a little bit younger than in previous years, the energy level and openness has been amazing. Often we have found that new students are slow to get started and open up. This has not been the case this year. Our discussion groups at night are already having very positive and open discussions. Interestingly, we have a number of students who went to English camps with other churches last year (churches from Třebič) and when their churches decided to not have an English camp they searched out a Josiah Venture English camp to attend and found us.
The week is going very well. Zach Benton (here for the fourth time) is a rock star. He leads our team very well and leads worship at night, and the kids all love it. As I mentioned before, the theme for the week is “You Are Here.” Zach has found two songs with these words in the chorus (one by “Needtobreathe” and the other by “The Wallin’ Jennys”). The whole camp loves them and the “Needtobreathe” version is becoming the anthem of the camp. Kyler Tipton, returning for the third time, has taken on the responsibility of leading evening icebreakers and breaking the hearts of multiple Czech girls by being clearly unavailable (or at least mostly so).
Austin Orvin, first time Czech team member, is a total natural. He is learning the language faster than anyone I have ever seen. He just got up from my table after teaching me how to say, “How is your day?” and “I have diarrhea.” Both of which perhaps will prove to be useful. Karis Martin is a dancing queen. O my word! The girl can keep a Hawaiian dance party going all night. She can dance like no one I have ever seen. Chuck and Andrea, the ballet lessons have paid off, just not like you may have expected. Karis is constantly engaged in conversations every time I look up. I can’t wait for her to return with her sisters.
Kelley Gillis and Emily Evans are returning for the second year. In addition to leading the camp dance amazingly this year, both girls have really found their stride. Kelley is doing a fantastic job leading the drama class, which prepares a short drama for each night’s program. Emily is constantly engaged in conversations and is five times more outgoing this year than last year. Her maturity is so evident as I see her moving into relationships and being comfortable in almost every situation.
Jason and Lauren, our young married couple (less than a year), are doing great. Each of them leads an intermediate English class, and their discussion groups are going very well. Jason is constantly looking for a theological discussion (or creating one of his own), and Lauren is so sweet that everyone is drawn to her like bugs to the light (I should find a better metaphor but the bugs here are pretty bad, so it is fitting). Alan Greenwood, our new youth pastor, is not intimidated by anything. He was a judge yesterday in an icebreaker game. Totally horrible at pronouncing Czech names (just like Shane and Fozzy before him) he was calling people out with utter confidence. “Red shorts. You are outta here!” “Yellow. Gone!” “Long blonde hair is out!” He is following the path of the trail blazed before him. Way to go, Alan.
Shane Caldwell, back for the third time, has been here enough that he is the subject of some of the skits. Seriously, he is playing guitar behind me with Jaromir Bayer, who we just call “Dale” (but no one knows why), and is so comfortable here that I suspect he will move here eventually – Sorry, Chris and Kayla; good news for Nathaniel, Kaitlyn, and Jonathan.
Beth Milligan. What can I say? Beth has wanted to come on this trip for years and should have come years ago. She is a perfect fit. All of our team loves her, and the Czechs will not leave her alone even though they can’t understand her southern drawl any better than the rest of us. Seriously, Beth has been unbelievable in her ability to embrace our youth group and the youth of the Czech Republic. She needs to come back every year.
Please keep us in your prayers. Tomorrow is “Hike Day” and an opportunity for us to develop some deeper relationships and longer conversations in a more natural setting than in English class and discussion groups. This is a little early for the hike but Wednesday the forecast is for rain in the mountains. Thursday will be Gospel night. We have already laid out the Gospel, but Thursday will be a night when we will ask the students to seriously consider embracing the Gospel and going beyond just understanding it and considering it an “American Thing.” We are all doing well but count on you to be praying for us. Please do.
CZR 2015 Update # 4 – Mountains, Momentum, and Making the Gospel Clear
Yesterday was an awesome day, as we hiked in the mountains and spent some quality time with the Czech students with whom we are developing relationships. After breakfast we met briefly with our English classes and then left the camp at 10:15. Our first destination was a watch tower (Štěpánka Hvěda). As you might have guessed, watch towers are on top of mountains. The destination was only about five kilometers away, but it did take us up to the top of a peak where, from the tower, you could see all around the region.
A few years ago some German graves and tombstones from World War II were discovered in the area, so an interesting granite German cross was displayed on one of the cliffs. It was a reminder of where we are. This northern area of Czech was called the Sudetentlands in World War II, and it is where a large number of Germans lived. This was the area Hitler said demanded his invasion of what was then The Czechoslovak Republic in order to protect the Germans who lived there. (Does that sound familiar? But I digress.)
From the tower we made our way down into the valley and ultimately to the Jîzera River where we had a great break in the sun and played in the water (which means soak your feet in the cold water). As long as we were going down we had great conversations. When we were hiking up the mountains (to the tower, out of the valley, and back to camp), we were excellent listeners. The hike day was really great but left everyone pretty tired. We returned in time for showers, which were much needed, and for dinner before the evening program.
Last night the evening talks continued with the theme of understanding with whom you travel with on the journey from “where you are” to “where you want to be.” We introduced the idea of traveling with Jesus on the journey. He is the one who created you, knows everything about you, and still loves you. Even though everyone was pretty tired from Hike Day our discussion groups were all pretty lively. Most of the groups are basically open; however, you can pray for two groups in particular, which have a few students who are making progress very difficult. They are not dominating with oppositional points of view, just very odd points that keep some groups from staying focused.
Last night we ended with a showing of “Pelisky,” which is a favorite Czech movie about the Prague spring of 1968. Many Czechs watch it every year. It is their version of a cross between “Christmas Vacation” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Tonight we will make the Gospel very clear and ask the question, “Where do you want to be?” This sets us up for what we call Gospel Night tomorrow, which brings with it a question of whether it is worth making a change in your life to get where you want to go. I want to go ahead and ask you now to pray for us at lunch time on Thursday. We are seven hours ahead of Central Time and that will be the time for our evening program. Prayer is so important. I have two students in my class this year who are an example. One student, Cuba, is here for the second time, and he really is comfortable with the Czech Youth Group and understands the Gospel clearly, even though he had never met anyone who believed in Jesus before last year. Burak is a girl who has been to camp for four years now and is even helping lead some things at camp, but she has not embraced the Gospel. Our answers are not going to move them. Only our continued love and the Lord capturing their heart will change their eternal destiny. Pray that this will happen for many students this year; if not here at camp, then in the days and months that follow.
CZR 2015 Update # 5 – Gospel Call, Winding Down, Gearing Up
We are in the middle of our last full day of camp here at Chata Zvonice (Cotttage of the Belfry www.zvonice.cz). This little secluded spot in the northern mountains of the Czech Republic has started to feel like home over the past week. It surprised us all this afternoon at our team meeting to realize we have been here for seven full days already. It seems like we arrived yesterday. But we have been excited to see what God has done in us and through us.
Perhaps the most significant development since my last update is that Lauren Pierce, our 21 year old newlywed (her husband Jason is with us as well) has had surgery in a Czech hospital in Jablonic. Lauren has been having very erratic stomach pains since we landed in Europe but nothing consistent. We have considered just about every possibility until late Wednesday, when, after a perfectly normal night, she was doubled over in more severe pain than any time yet. We knew we had to get her to a hospital. The closest town (15 km from Zvnoice) had an excellent hospital, and God even provided a doctor from Bahrain who speaks English. Her husband Jason and Beth Milligan (we can never tell you how valuable she has been on this trip) went with her and before midnight she had minor surgery to repair an ulcer that had perforated her stomach. The surgery went very well and she is doing great. Our biggest challenge is that the Czech health care system moves much slower in recovery than in the states. It looks like now that she will be able to travel home with us, although we still ask you to pray for us that the timing of her release works out well.
The other eternally significant thing that happened is that we have had “Gospel Night” and we know of at least one student, Mikial Žouželka, who has committed his life to Christ. Many other students came to the prayer room last night and had some really great conversations with us and the Czech Team Leaders about their desire to move farther in their relationship with God. One young man, Dale, asked me to pray for him to have courage to take steps forward in what he knows he believes. Another, Tomaš, confessed that he believes in “energy” but is now curious about what it would look like to believe that there is a personal God and not just “energy.” Numerous Bibles were given away with encouragement to read the Gospel of John and the book of Ephesians as a starting point. We are excited to see what God will do with the seeds that have been sown.
We have one more evening program before we head back to Pardubice for a day of follow up. Pray that our connections to the students will be transferred to involvement in the Archa Church Youth Group. We will have an activity at the church Saturday evening and then all attend church Sunday. Zach will lead worship and I will preach. This is a time when many students will come to a church for the first time in their lives. With a slightly shorter follow up this year, please pray that the students will attend. We do have six girls who are from other small villages too far away from Pardubice to attend church. Pray that the Bibles we give them will be read, and they will come to know God in the pages there.
Our final day and a half will be spent in Prague on a whirlwind tour of an amazing city that is, in many ways, a second home to me. Pray for safe travel, healthy bodies, and especially that Lauren will be cleared to return on Tuesday with us. We have seen God move in some great ways and are hopeful that this is only the beginning. We have loved serving here and can’t wait to get back and tell you our stories in person.
For the only cause that matters.