Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Looking back to last semester at K-State, I remember the many nights I holed up in my office with a foot-high stack of papers to grade; besides that, church, and the occasional 'soup night' on Friday with friends, I didn't have much of a social life. Looking back to the beginning of the semester, I also remember many nights munching on a salad at home and planning lessons. Now, I am away from home for supper more often than I am there, balancing Bible study and roommate dinner and English conversations with a Czech language partner. Although I know that my primary responsibilities center on the school, I've also found that a great deal of ministry happens outside the school and even outside my relationships with students as I develop other relationships with Czech people and with fellow believers here. In this blog post, I want to give you a glimpse into the goings-on outside of school.


Czech Partner Story

About six weeks ago, a SEND leader set up me with a Czech language partner: a university student who wanted to practice conversational English with an echte English speaker. What we wanted, of course, was a chance to introduce the student to Christ and share our faith with her. At that time, I also wanted to stretch myself beyond the four school walls, and so I agreed. Mike set me up with Sarka (actually pronounced Sharka), a PhD student in agriculture and ecology at a university on the northwest side of Prague.

In early February, Sarka and I agreed to meet up at the Dejvicka Starbucks (primarily because I felt that was the easiest place for me to find); we were to meet at 6:30 P.M. on the first floor, right after we walked in the door. I was to know her by the purple coat she'd be wearing. At 6:30 sharp, I hurried through the Starbucks door, located a table directly in front of the entrance, and waited. And waited. Five minutes passed, then ten, and still she did not show up. Finally, I decided to check the upstairs level: I trotted up the stairs, and there at the top of the stairs, was a young woman in a purple coat. She'd been sitting there exactly as long as I had, since in Europe the 'first floor' actually means 'the first floor off the ground, as distinct from the ground floor'.

In spite of the confusing start, we've managed to build a stronger relationship. Last week, we actually met in Sarka's dorm room on the university campus (its decor is super-sparse; think hospital room sparse) instead of in public, drank tea and ate grapes. As we've met eat time, we've talked about her work and her environmentally-conscious beliefs, her dream of marrying her boyfriend and living in the country with a
horse, and the corruption in the Czech government.

A great deal of ministry here in Europe centers on strong, long-term relationships; people are not interested in five-minute gospel presentations from someone they hardly know. It's important that we do meet regularly, that I build a friendship with her instead of simply trying to convert her. As I get to know Sarka week-by-week, I hope to move on to more spiritually-meaningful topics and share my own faith with her. At this time, she seems marginally religious and not particularly interested in religious matters, so do pray that God will open the 'channels of communication' in regards to spiritual matters, beyond the day-to-day business of work and studies and teaching and walking in the countryside.

Bible Study Story

Every Wednesday, ten women (or so) from the International Church of Prague hold a Bible study; every week, this Bible study is preceded by supper. Usually, the food is delicious, so much so that one of our participants
has facetiously named it the 'Get Delicious Recipes Every Week Bible Study'. As a group, we've made pasta bakes, crepes, cinnamon rolls, tomato soup, toasted cheese, broccoli cheese soup, and French toasted for each other, and enjoyed every bit of it. I think for each of us, eating supper is a good time to lay aside the stresses of the week and enjoy each others' company, a sort of mini-Sunday in the middle of the week.

Last week, I led our Bible study for the first time. I planned a nice little word search on 'teach' and created beautiful handouts listing important verses; I printed the handouts and laid them aside in a useful place. That afternoon, I got home and discovered that I couldn't find the handouts and that all I had was a list of verses on the computer. And so I improvised: I scrawled the verse references onto a tiny square of scratch paper on my desk, tucked in in my pocket, and headed off to Bible study.

At Bible study, I pulled the square of paper out of my pocket and read the references aloud. The first verse was Psalm 25:8-9:

Good and upright is the Lord,
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.
The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble he teaches His way.

Being a teacher, I'd planned what I wanted everyone to get out of this verse: that just as God is a 'good and upright' teacher, so we human teachers are also responsible to be 'good and upright' in our behaviour, that we cannot expect to teach others Christ unless we ourselves are walking with Him. And so I asked, 'According to
this verse, who is supposed to be teaching?'. My Bible study peers, like 5th graders, all responded in unison: God. Talk about a discussion fail! Eventually, however we moved on to deeper revelations: not only that we believers should be walking with God as we teach, but also that God is good to us, that He is continually teaching us and leading us, that we too need to be humble to receive His teaching.

And this is perhaps what I find so crucial about Bible study: As long as we teachers are supposed to be guiding our own students in biblical truth, it's vitally important that we are learning truth of our own from each other, that we are encouraging each other to walk with Christ and to live in Him day-to-day. At Bible study, we have the chance to offer each other prayers and encouragement and so contribute to each other's ministry across Prague. A few weeks ago, we studied the spiritual gifts (something I haven't done since junior high), and this is what we took away from that study: Whatever our personal gift happens to be, the most important thing is this: that we love each other as Christ - a genuine, unconditional, active love.

Perhaps this love will be expressed as we eat together and talk together and pray together in Bible study. Perhaps it will be expressed in other ways: This Saturday, for instance, we are holding a bridal shower for my friend Kate, who'll be getting married in July this year. Either way, the point is that we continually reach out to each other, lifting each other up in thoughts and kind, Christlike words and actions.

I've noticed that I tend to create "Notes on Czech" based on what I actually have photos of. Given my busy schedule, I don't really have time to go out and take extra photos. So this week I have pictures of parks, and you get a note on "Parks in Prague".

I arrived in January to a frozen tundra, and now, the leaves and flowers are coming out on all the trees. It's absolutely gorgeous here. I was also told when I first arrived that Prague is known for mini-parks all over the city; Jill Dagan pointed me towards a mini-park just around the corner from their house. It's a common experience to simply stumble across a large park on a walk from Point A to Point B. Near the school, there's a park with a fantastic view of the city and the castle. Go there on a warm day, and you'll see Czech people sprawled across the lawn munching on a snack, drinking beer, or simply soaking in the sun (sometimes they're making out too, in which case you simply hurry the other way).

In the city, there are intentional parks, parks that are planned and part of the city's national heritage. Around the castle there are a number of parks that are opening for the spring, and offering gorgeous views of the city:

I love how you can see the castle in the background here:

Sometimes, you simply 'happen upon' the park. It's a park without a name, a tiny patch of green and trees and leaves tucked away into a busy corner of the city. This park is a little corner between a busy street right of Malostranska, down in the hubbub of the tourist section of the city. Along the benches you see echte Czech sitting and enjoying the day, and tourists munching on corn-on-the-cob from the local food stand:

A well-known park near my house is "Letensky Sady' (I think 'sady' means 'park'). One warm day in March, I took a long walk there with my camera; about halfway through, I took off my coat and stuffed it into my bag and trekked along in just a sweatshirt. As you can see, Letensky Sady is up above the level of Prague and offers gorgeous views of the city below. I love the colours in this photo:

Last Sunday evening, I took a walk down in the "Little Town" and happened upon this park. It's tucked away between a restaurant and a tourist store selling tableclothes and postcards. The park dates back to the 1200s, when local monks started an orchard there; today, the trees there are the descendants of those orchard trees, and large peacocks inhabit the park. I unfortunately did not have my camera with me that day, so no pictures of the peacocks . . . yet. I'm planning a return.

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