The inevitable appears to have happened: Bethany got sick. She woke up this morning feeling stuffy like the rest of us and now we’re hoping here super pregnancy hormones will allow her to bounce back faster than we are (I don’t know if that’s scientifically proven or possible, but I can dream right?). Needless to say with everyone hacking, sneezing, and sniffling we didn’t make it to church today. I took NyQuill last night and was out cold so even when I woke up I was pretty groggy. Bethany can’t take anything really because of the baby so again we’re just hoping she doesn’t get it as bad. To further complicate things, Avery threw up tonight at dinner which means she’s still battling. I ended up buying three boxes of tissues at the store last night and I’m pretty sure I already single-handedly used up a half a box. It’s just been one of those sick days that have become oh so common for us.
Something that’s kind of new for me is whenever I get sick I have been losing all sense of taste. I say new because it’s only really been in the past year or so that I’ve experienced this phenomena. I’m pretty sure it’s just related to how congested I am, but for the past three days I have been unable to taste anything. It’s very strange to bite in to a banana or eat a salad with dressing and taste nothing. My brain has the memory of what it should taste like, but there’s just nothing there. I hate it. You realize really quickly the incredible grace of God that exists in your sense of taste when you don’t have it anymore. God didn’t have to make food taste different. He could’ve just made it tasteless and only allowed food to give your nourishment. Instead He made food taste different and internationally we have some many different varieties to enjoy. That’s a grace of the Lord that I’m missing today.
We did manage to make it outside for a bit today. Titus and Avery love all the dandelions growing right now and at one point Titus just laid down in the long grass near the park where we walked to tonight. I took this photo of him because he looked so happy. It’s nice to see such joy in spite of sickness. That’s the heart I want to have right now. It truly remind me of the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. This is my prayer this evening,
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
As of Today Bethany is 38 weeks pregnant with baby #3 and she got a good report today during he second to last check-up. After next week’s appointment, she’ll be transferred to the care of the hospital who will see her for week 40 should that be required. Things work a little bit different here in Czech for these kinds of appointments, but I would say overall it’s been a pretty similar experience as to what we’ve had in the States.
Following her appointment this morning, we headed over to our friend Lauren’s house because she’s the one helping us with all the details at the Czech hospital and will be Bethany’s doula as well as translator. She just wanted to nail down all of the details and make sure everything was ready to go in regards to paperwork and the birth plan. There are still a few things left to fill out and seems that there’s always a lot of paperwork to do in Czech, but we’re excited to be nearing the finish line and meet our new daughter!
Since Lauren and her family live near the JV office, I decided to just go in and work for bit even though the office was mostly closed today. Usually everyone takes the two days following the conference for a little time off because of just how busy things are and the big push leading up to conference. It was nice and quiet there today and I had about an hour to get some emails out and follow up on a few outstanding items from the week. Everyone should be back in tomorrow and we’ll keep rollin’ with projects and all the other things going on.
I try to keep a book with me when I’m out and about, just in case I get a moment or two where I’m waiting or have time to read. When I went to pick up Bethany her meeting was going a little longer so I ended up reading in the car which I had parked in the shade. I’m really enjoying this book Gospel-Centered Counseling and it’s focus on how the gospel changes how we help people. There is one quote in particular that stood out to me today that I think is just helpful. Bob Kellemen writes on pages 34-35,
Typically we ask God and seek help from each other to change our feelings and our circumstances. God is in the change business, but a very different type of change–heart change, Christlikeness–presenting everyone “perfect,” or mature, in Christ (Col. 1:28).
Listen to the song of eternity–it’s about celebrating Christ’s victory and the Bride’s purity for God’s glory! We look at our lives and want instructions or explanations. What we need is imagination and vision to see life today in light of eternity.“.
I quoted more for the context, but it’s that last sentence in particular that stood out to me. We do need to be able to see our life today in light of eternity. That takes work to do, but if we look at each day through the lens of the gospel narrative we will begin to see our story as part of the greater story that the Lord has written which started with Creation and ends with Consummation. When we view our lives as part of the greater story we get a bigger picture of what the Lord is doing and can see His hand more clearly in the details in our lives. I need to take those truths to heart and remember that God is working in all the details of our lives in light of eternity. That’s a wonderful truth and a great reminder to me today.
I should probably stop going to the store here at night. It seems that every time I do something eventful happens.
Tonight I took the kids to the store and it actually takes me longer to get the kids into the car than to drive there. You could almost walk, but it’s just far enough to make it worth taking the car for a quick trip. As we were driving, there was one car in front of us that was about to turn into the same store parking lot. All of a sudden they swerved left as if to avoid something. I wasn’t following them closely so I slowed down, but through the headlights I realized what they were trying to swerve around: a woman.
Praise the Lord, they missed her but it definitely shook them up because I saw them hit the brakes and pause for a moment while I was coming up behind them. The woman was stumbling around the edge of the snowy sidewalk with a large purse and as we passed her I realized quickly that she was drunk. There weren’t many other cars around so I stopped my car not far past her and turned around to watch her in hopes she would get back on the sidewalk safely. To my surprise, she did the exact opposite. She walked in to the middle of the road and began raising her hands and walk straight towards the oncoming traffic. I could see headlights coming down the road and because of how dark and not well lit the street is I thought I better turn around and do something!
I flipped the car around at the store entrance. Titus said, “Daddy why are we going back?” and I can’t really remember what I told him because I was a little worried in that moment. My plan was to either warn the oncoming cars by flashing my lights or try to think of something else so nothing terrible would happen. Thankfully, by the time I got back on the road she had moved herself toward the sidewalk but was struggling to stay standing. The kids and I drove by her again and I just watched to make sure she was going to stay off the street, which it looked like she was. I genuinely thought in that moment that I was going to witness something horrific which is why I turned my car around. Praise the Lord, nothing happened.
I realize in some sense that drunk people are relatively common around the world, and I’ve seen my share of them in the States. But I have definitely seen more here in the past 8 months than I’ve probably seen in my life time. According to some sources, Czech is ranked 6th in a list of “alcohol consumption per capita.” On Thursday morning I went to the store at 10am and it was very busy. The one thing that stood out to me was that 80-90% of the shopping carts had numerous large bottles of beer or some kind of alcohol. It’s very prominent here. I also realize that beer and alcohol aren’t the problem in this country. They are simply the manifestation of a bigger problem, a heart problem the Bible calls sin.
Whether sin comes out in drunkenness, anger, selfishness, lying, or pride, it’s all the same in the eyes of the Lord. It’s universal for all men, including me. In fact, outside the grace of God, I’m really not much different than a drunk woman playing a horrific game of chicken with oncoming traffic. But that’s the beauty of the gospel of Jesus! He gave his own life for all of that sin. One of my favorites verses in the Bible is in John 19 when Jesus says, “It is finished.” Those are His dying words, but they mean life to the world. “It is finished” means that sin has been conquered. Every sin that has ever been committed in the past, present, or even in the future has been paid for by the blood of Jesus. As one songwriter wrote, “It is finished. It is done. To the world Salvation comes. Hallelujah, We’re alive. Hell was silenced when You cried “It is finished.”
After leaving the store with the kids, I found myself scanning the sidewalk for the woman. I didn’t see her and hopefully she made it to where she was going safely. I don’t know where she stands with the Savior, but if it’s true that this is one of the most atheistic countries in the world then it’s likely she doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus. This is just a deep reminder to pray for her and this country. It’s also a reminder for myself to continue to push hard into the language so we can communicate the truths of the gospel with the people we meet and come in contact with or even the ones we see stumbling down the street.
Driving home this evening I saw a lot more houses and trees with Christmas lights. From what I have been told, Czechs usually don’t decorate until Christmas Eve or a few days before Christmas. Based on what I saw tonight, that’s definitely true because even our own landlord had Christmas lights hanging from her balcony and a little wreath on our shared front door (shown below).
I made a stop at the grocery store when I got town and the place was crazy. There were a ton more cars than normal and people were in super shopping mode. Christmas Eve is the day they open presents here, so I guess I was just caught in the middle of the last minute gift shopping. Everything was on sale, so I honestly don’t blame them. I actually made a stop at a second store for some other items and it too was full of people, and both stores had vendors outside selling live carp (that’s fish), which is a tradition here.
But as I was out, I was listening to the carol “We Three Kings” as sung and arranged by Steven Curtis Chapman. I’m sure I’ve heard the song a thousand times, but the words just really sank in tonight. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m aware of just how spiritually dark Czech is, but the song ministered to me as I saw the flickering lights and Christmas shoppers.
The carol walks through the life of Christ from His birth, death, and resurrection. The refrain ends with a line that just stuck with me today that says, “Guide us to thy perfect light.” I think I’m interpreting this correctly, but the light here is Christ. The imperfect star the kings are following is just leading them to a perfect light, the source of light, the Light of the World.
As I listened, my heart was heavy for the Czech people. So many will hang lights and celebrate this year without any knowledge of the True Light, Jesus Christ. My heart was filled with compassion for the many around the globe who will exchange gifts and travel to see family, again, without an understanding of the gospel of Jesus. My prayer tonight is that God would guide the lost to the Perfect Light this Christmas. I hope He uses me to do it, and I hope He uses many others around the world as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
This week the Czech Republic is celebrating their Independence Day. I guess they have two, but this week’s celebration commemorates their first back in 1918 when they declared their independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Titus actually has the first three days of school off this week and the Josiah Venture office here will be closed tomorrow. That’s all well and good, but there’s only problem: all the drunk people.
I don’t know if it’s just the holiday, but I can’t imagine a regular Monday night being a big drinking night for most people. But going to the grocery store was an event tonight. When I pulled in to Tesco where I planned to shop tonight, I saw a guy walking towards the car of an older lady who was putting her groceries in. He was talking to her and she was not responding. I had the kids in the back seat and was just kind of keeping an eye on things as I parked the car. I watched as he kept talking with her and she continued to not respond and he stood behind her car and she tried to back out. Eventually he moved out of the way, but was talking the entire time and finally hit her hood as she was backing out. I don’ think he did any damage, but for me that was enough for me to head to another store. Listen, I’m sure I could take a drunk guy in a fight if I needed to but with two kids you think twice about pulling everyone out of the car with this guy hassling customers in the parking lot.
I drove over to Kaufland (another grocery store) which is just around the corner from Tesco. Things went pretty well for the most part, except the place was just absolutely packed with people. Maybe I don’t shop on Mondays enough, but my goodness, this place was hopping! I only had to grab a few things, and I had Titus and Avery in the cart. Titus wanted to sit where the young kids usually sit so I put Avery in the main part of the cart. As I was checking out the woman at the register was clearly upset at me and kept looking at Avery. “OK Shay… what is she saying to you?” I was thinking to my self. I tried to ignore it and just keep unloading the cart. I’m not trying to be mean, but I just don’t understand enough Czech at this point to figure it out. She said something to me again and I looked at Avery and realized, “Oh… she probably doesn’t want Avery in the cart!” I picked up Avery and put her down and the lady said, “Thank you” in Czech. Whew. Dodged a bullet on that one.
While driving away from Kaufland I noticed a heavier than normal police presence with cops walking around casually in the parking lot. I wonder what that’s all about? I kind of blew it off until I got a little down the road and almost hit a drunk guy walking directly in the middle or the road. That’s true. Turned the corner and….drunk guy, walking sideways with a plastic bag in his hand right in my lane. I slammed on the brakes, he had that drunk guy in headlights look, and maneuvered his way around our car without a scene. Whew. Dodged a drunk guy on that one. I didn’t put it all together, but as we pulled in to the driveway it all clicked: oh yeah, it’s a holiday week and maybe that has some connection with all the craziness I have seen tonight. Honestly, I have no clue if that’s true, but that’s my explanation in this moment and the best I can do!
In all seriousness though, I think it’s all really sad and I genuinely felt compassion for both of the men I saw tonight, especially the second man who just looked really messed up. Both of them are made in the image of God. Both of them are in desperate need of a lot more than alcohol, that is, they need a relationship with Christ. That is not something I take lightly and as I write tonight my heart is heavy for Czech Republic. There are still so many that have never heard the Good News and I pray they will get to hear it and respond in faith before it’s too late.
On our way to Poland yesterday, we stopped at a McDonald’s to grab lunch. The kids were asleep in the car, and attempting English in the drive thru is pretty much out of the question, so I went inside to order. The nice Polish woman who helped me spoke great English which was a blessing and as I went to pay I realized I didn’t have my debit card in my wallet. This was very strange because it’s pretty much my lifeline here, but I had to pay so I just used a different card. After getting back into the car I searched around and couldn’t find it. The last place I remember seeing it was the night before when I went to the grocery store for Bethany. Either I had left it there or put in my pants pocket that night. I guess this would have to wait until we get back from Poland.
Today I checked all my pants pockets and couldn’t find it so I went to Tesco where I remembered having it last. Since I can’t speak Czech, I used my phone (Google translate) to communicate with the ladies that I thought I had left my bank card there. Amazingly, and thankfully, they had it! I was told to go to “informace” (customer service) and showed them my passport and got it back! Praise God I didn’t lose it because getting a new sent here from the States would’ve been tough. And in the end I thought the whole experience was yet another language learning opportunity.
I took the kids out late this afternoon for a little walk to the park while Bethany started dinner. We live in a pretty historical area, so much so that they have little plaques along the square near our place explaining the different building and their significance. I’ve read a few of them, but today I found a new one over by the park that I hadn’t seen of the building in the above photo. Apparently it was built in the latter part of the 19th century and was an administration building then a secondary school. But in 1939 the Nazis occupied this area and (are you sitting down?) it became the headquarters for the Gestapo! A block from my apartment is where the Gestapo had their base of operations. Crazy! Wait… you don’t believe me? Here’s the plaque (written in Czech, Polish, and English):
Tonight I attend a youth conference at our church where the main speaker was none other than Dave Patty, the president of Josiah Venture. He speaks very good Czech and I watched in awe as he preached from Romans 12:1-2 to a few hundred Czech teenagers. I did my best to listen for words that I knew, but genuinely had no clue what was going on. Had it not been for the person next to who spoke a little English, I wouldn’t even have known we were in Romans. From what I could tell though, Dave had the attention of the students and I’m sure they were blessed. I know I was encouraged, especially from the singing tonight when they did a familiar Phil Wickham song in English! Here’s a short clip of everyone singing “This is amazing grace:”
This is a room full of young people gathered for a Christian youth conference here in Czech. Such a joy to see this.
Hearing that song sung by so many young people almost had me in tears. The spiritual climate in Czech is so dry that to see all of these people praising Jesus in a small town in Czech is kind of mind blowing. This is fresh to me because just tonight a friend forwarded me a link on Twitter about just how atheistic the Czech Republic is. It’s yet another reminder of why we’re here but how God continues to move among the youth.
We drove to a nearby town called Třinec to meet with the headmaster of a local preschool today. Somehow Natalija got Bethany’s phone number and connected with us this past week to have us over to her house. Her desire was to meet our family and talk to Bethany about helping out after school by teaching English to kindergartners. She was a very sweet woman who has two grown boys, one who is 22 and the other 19. We spent the afternoon with her and her oldest son, Daniel, and enjoyed tea and a wonderful Czech pastry called Bábovka (pronounced “BAH-BOVE-KUH) outside in their garden. Above is a a photo of Avery holding a tiny plumb which we picked from her true. In the left photo is a wheelbarrow full of them. Natalija’s husband actually baked the Bábovka for us and she told us that the recipe was at least “a few hundred years old.” Below is a photo of this delectable treat.
Natalija is actually Russian but moved to Czech about twenty years ago. She speaks great English, Russian, Czech, and even a little Italian. High energy would be one way to describe her, but that might even be an understatement. We were given a full tour of her three story house which is currently under construction. At one point she showed us a little cabinet with some Russian items she owns. One item in particular is from the fifteenth century! She inherited it from her grandmother or something, along with some old books that date from around the same time. My mind has a hard time fathoming that kind of history and it’s just sitting in a display case in a family’s house in Czech. Below are some photos of the display case and her dining area which she told us was decorated with things she bought solely in Hungary.
At one point during our tea time Natalija asked what we do. After explaining that we were missionaries and telling her about Josiah Venture and our ministry she told us that she grew up Russian Orthodox and that her mom is actually a nun. She started telling us funny stories about her mom who was once a very wealthy woman in Russia but left it all to be a nun. But as the conversation continued she expressed her fear of Muslims and asked us what we thought. Bethany and I did our best to clarify what the difference between Christians and Muslims. We also talked about the political system that Muslims desire and that’s when Daniel, her son, piped up. “I’m an atheist and I’ve read the Bible a little bit,” he said, “but I see the God of the Bible telling people to kill their kids just like Muslims kill people.” A bit startled, I said, “You mean like Isaac and Abraham?” And Bethany asked, “Or do you mean like stoning disobedient kids in the Old Testament.” He said, “Yes,” but I wasn’t sure to which question. He ended up telling us that he thought Muslims were just an archaic society and that the modern society is just more advanced than them. “Wow”, I thought to myself.
Knowing it was an opportunity to talk about Christ Bethany and I just began to share with them Christ and grace. Bethany talked about not being able to earn your salvation and that there’s nothing you can do to work your way to God, in stark contrast to the Koran. I encouraged Daniel to read the gospels and look at what Christ did. Amazingly, and this hard to express, but amazingly, there was no dissension at the table. No one was angry or upset and we just kept right on talking. Within an hour of arriving we were talking about Christ and honestly I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to go when I woke up today. Natalija and Daniel didn’t bow the knee to Jesus today, but maybe we were the first people to talk to them about Christ? Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get more opportunities to share Jesus with them again. We have open door now and we’ve been invited back and would love to keep this relationship going. We prayed for them today and tonight and would covet your prayers as we pursue them.
Immediately after leaving Natalija’s house we went to a birthday part for Titus’ friend, Beni, who turned five. Beni is the son of Casey and Kristin who are missionaries with JV as well. We had a wonderful time there and even went in their pool for a while. They had a home made piñata and even played a “pin the tail on the donkey” type game, all with an Iron Man theme. Even though Titus and Avery had skipped naps and were pretty tired from the morning, they did pretty well. And believe it or not, this wasn’t our last stop of the day.
From Beni’s party we went straight to our church’s youth group meeting that started at 5:00pm. We have wanted to go for a few weeks now but tonight was our first time. Without question we had a great time. Titus and Avery did really well all things considered and we just had a really fun time with the students tonight. For me, this was the piece I think I’ve been missing most which is just spending time with young people. Czech students are so sweet and friendly, and many of them speak English. We played games with them, laughed with them, and from what I could tell we were the only married couple there. Below is a photo during one of the games where you had to run down the middle of this tunnel thing and below that is a video of the boys being boys.
The whole youth group meeting was very similar, if not identical to what you would fine in the States. The format of the whole night was similar with games, message, music, and announcements. There was at least forty students there tonight and I was talked with some of them it sounds like a few our from different towns as far as twenty minutes away. Even though we had a very full day, I really felt like we needed to be there and my heart was encouraged by these young people. God is truly moving among the youth in Czech!
Ah! So many emotions are hitting me tonight, but I am just sitting here in awe of God’s hand on our family. It was so fun to do ministry together today. From spending time with unbelievers, friends, and then our church’s youth we have had a full and joyful day. We learned a ton today and I believe it will only deepen our faith. I am thankful to my Savior for pulling the scales from my eyes and showing me Christ. Those same scales currently blind people like Daniel, Natalija, and no doubt some of the young people at church tonight. Oh that Christ would open their eyes! This is our prayer on this full day. To Him be the glory.