Friday, 24 November 2017

The best decision I made in 2016

When I was in Israel last year I learnt a lot and even eighteen months later, I find myself thinking about that trip. I've lifted my orange Israel notebook off my bookshelf multiple times to refresh my memory of key points. And I continue to unpack and process some of the things I heard there as I seek to live differently because of what God showed me. 

But it was also in Israel that I made one of the best decisions of 2016. I'm not entirely sure what day it happened or where I was but it was in that country that I decided to join a gym when I returned to Czech. 

Now, there are many good reasons to join a gym. Working out a few times a week is a great thing for your body, the endorphins feel amazing, it helps your body deal with stress. I've had chronic back pain for over ten years now and working out regularly definitely helps me manage the pain and even reduce it. 

In my little hometown it's also a good idea to join a gym because the air gets so bad in winter with the low temperatures and pollution. A few times every winter a smog situation is declared and the young, elderly, and sick are advised to simply stay inside. There are times I'll walk from my car to my flat and my scarf will smell like I've become a smoker because of the pollution in the air. So it is actually not a good idea to exercise outside in the winter; I'm rather convinced it would negatively impact your health.

All the reasons so far are good motivation to join the gym. But none of them were my main reason. I wanted to join a gym to get to know more people in my community because it's easy to spend my days at the office and my weekends fill up with church and youth group. I wanted to get to know and build relationships with more non-Christians.

I picked the gym in town that's for women only and checked it out for the free week. I've been going ever since - over eighteen months. And while I'm sure there are gyms with better philosophy behind them I am so grateful for this place and the women there!

One of the things that attracted me to this gym is that you can pause your membership for a tiny fee. This works perfectly with my travel schedule and I'm still on my first twelve months of actual membership because of all the breaks when I head to other countries. And when I return after a week or a month I'm warmly welcomed and asked where I've been and what I've been up to.

Each October we have a group hike day, so I just attended my second one. It is such a fun day - we hike to the top of the mountain I can see from my living room window, and have some soup at the top, before hiking down for our main lunch at a restaurant at the bottom. Along the way women stop to pick berries or mushrooms, and we all wait for those who are a little behind as we labour up the hill.

And there are many conversations that happen along the way. This year it was wonderful to get to chat to women who I've seen multiple times but never had the chance to talk to. None of the women speak English, and they are abundantly patient with my Czech ability. We chat about the weather, our families, the gym, and all those wonderful things that make up our daily lives.

It's never long before someone asks "Wait, you're a Northern Irish girl who lives in Český Těšín? Why would you live here?" and I get to explain why I live here, what I do, and how much I love calling this little border town home. 

I'm so very thankful that God led me to this decision last year, and that I can now be part of this community. I'm praying for continued opportunities to build relationships with these women and that I'll be faithful in always being ready to give a reason for the hope that I have.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Fall Conference 2017: Transform

In the last week of September 380 youth leaders from over fifteen nations gathered in a little town in the Czech Republic for Fall Conference. The theme this year was Transform, learning to teach like Jesus. 

We believe that we have the greatest story ever told - so it's worth the work to learn how to teach it well, to teach it so that it truly transforms lives. And it should always start by transforming us as we learn and prepare. The truth is, at best we are the teaching assistants and it's every disciple maker's, every teacher's, role to step into the shadow of Jesus as He teaches.

One of the beautiful things about the conference was the fact we sang in all the languages represented there during the week. You can see three languages on the powerpoint screen above. I can sing in Czech, Slovak, and Polish but even the ones I couldn't sing in were beautiful, and a little foretaste of heaven where people from every tongue and nation will worship God. 

Another favourite thing about the conference was the teaching - from the main sessions each evening, to the three different tracks that everyone was placed in based on how they normally teach, to the workshops. I loved being in the workshop all about asking questions as a teaching method, taught by DU from Romania.

There is a team that works to plan conference throughout the year and their leadership, diligence and care was on display in so many of the details. I am so thankful that I got to sit under such excellent teaching for the week! And I am crazy thankful to serve in an organisation so passionate about equipping us well. 

And then there are the people who come to this conference! With 380 of us it's impossible to talk to everyone, but there are many beautiful conversations that happen over meals, or coffee, or late at night during the week. 

This photo shows three of my favourite people of the week - I got to meet these three ladies during four years of doing camps with Dejvice church in Prague. Now they are all loving Jesus and living for Him - as a student, a teacher, and a full time missionary. They radiate Him and it is the greatest privilege to know them, be friends, and get to spend time together! 

Once again, I left this place, this conference centre, this hill, changed - closer to Jesus and more equipped to serve Him. 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Fall Camp Meeting

On a Saturday in September thirty of my favourite people gathered and we're pictured above. These are the people who lead our camp ministry in each of their countries and it was such a joy to be together for a couple of days! 

As I was praying and thinking about this meeting over the summer I felt God gave me three words for our time together - celebration, collaboration, and clarity. So that's how we spent our time - celebrating all that God did through camps this summer, collaborating for the year ahead, and bringing some clarity to some areas. 

And there was much to celebrate - there is a lot of fruit that comes from our summer ministries, and some of that fruit is over five hundred young people who professed faith in Jesus! We went out for dinner together on Sunday night, after playing a game of ping pong assassin in the local shopping centre (we are youth ministry people, afterall!).

But when we weren't sneaking around a shopping centre, trying to successfully hit the person whose name we had on our ping pong, we were sitting around these tables. We spent a lot of time talking about the local churches we get to partner with as we do over one hundred and twenty camps - how can we best train them, and equip them to do camp well. We also talked about what worked last year and what we can do better next year, with camps and interns and short term teams. 

These are the people I work closest with and it was wonderful to spend a few blessed days together. I'm so grateful for this team and all that we were able to talk and dream about. I love that I get to serve alongside these people as we seek to partner with and equip local churches across central and eastern Europe to fulfil Christ's commission. 

It's exciting to think about the fruit that God will bring from the discussions and plans we started in this place!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Today and Tomorrow in Czech

Today and tomorrow people across Czech are voting for who will represent them in the lower house of the Czech parliament. This means today people are picking the two hundred people who will be in government for the next four years.

It's been interesting to see the advertisements, posters, and flyers, that have appeared everywhere - along roads and in my letterbox. The last time there were elections I didn't understand any of the words but now I understand more. Although I still have a lot to learn about the government here and the thirty-one parties that run in the elections, and the ten main parties.

We know that it is ultimately God who is sovereign over all - from the President and Prime Minister, to the people who serve in the government offices in my little border town (where the voting lists, above, are printed in both Czech and Polish). And I'm thankful to live in a country where people can choose who is in power, especially as that has not always been true here. 

Would you please join me in praying for these elections and their results? That God would powerfully use whoever ends up in power, not for their glory but for His? Czech normally scores higher in corruption scales compared with other European countries, so please pray that all those in government would be people of integrity who will serve the country well. 

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. " 1 Timothy 2 v 1-4

If you're interested the New York Times have an article about the Czech elections that you can read here.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

An autumn day in Czech

It’s autumn here - the leaves are falling, “buy new winter tyres” is on my to-do list, and my desire to have heating is growing bigger than my lack of desire to learn how to use my new thermostat. This is my fifth autumn here and that feels strange because time seems to go by so quickly and so slowly at the same time. I’m currently also gearing up for my second home assignment, and being in Northern Ireland for November and December. 

On Thursday someone asked me where I call home - as I plan on heading back to NI am I saying I’m going home? The truth is that yes - Northern Ireland is where I grew up, and where my family live. I have twenty-four years of memories living there and, although my accent doesn’t always betray it, it’s home.

But the other truth is here is also home. I fly home whether I’m on an Easyjet flight heading east or west. Czech is home in both deeper and shallower ways than Northern Ireland is home. Northern Ireland is home because that’s where I was born and grew up. Northern Ireland has shaped me in deep ways, ways I can’t even communicate and sometimes don’t even know. Czech is home because I chose and choose to obey God and His deep and beautiful call on my life that has me here. Czech is my home not because I understand everything that happens but even though I decidedly don’t understand everything.

Yesterday I ran some errands around town. I bumped into someone from church. And the lady who works at the car insurance place greeted me when she saw me through the window. I was able to accomplish all my errands - and even some not on today’s list - all in a second language, and even solving problems met along the way.

I bought a beautiful bunch of flowers and I carried them home upside down. I didn’t even have to think about it - here flowers are carried by gripping the stem and carrying them upside down. I’d never done it that way before I moved here but now it makes sense.

None of this is remarkable or weird or scary any more. Sure, the post office still drives me a little crazy but that’s only because there is no observable, obvious, queuing system. But going to the post office no longer an errand that freaks me out or I need to psych myself up for. 

So, I’m excited for this month of soaking up autumn in Czech, at home with lots of my normal rhythms and routines. And I’m excited to head home at the end of the month to catch up with dear people and share the stories of what God is doing in this place. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Camps happening this week - 28th August

These posts are happening each Monday this summer to invite you to pray with us for the camps happening this week! 

This week the camps that are happening are:

  • one in Bulgaria
If you'd like to get a feel for our camps check out this video:

This summer we will have a total of one hundred and twenty two camps across our thirteen countries! We have one hundred and five interns serving with us for three months, and over one thousand people serving on short term teams. For each camp, we'll be partnering with a local church to put on an English, sports, European, or music camp. And young people from the town, city, or area will be invited to come along, to learn English or grow in their football skills, or perform in a rock-pop choir, and they'll hear the Gospel and be invited to respond. 

The theme for our camps this year is SEEN and we'll spend the week looking at how people are seen by Jesus. Each night we will look at a different encounter Jesus has with someone in the Bible and what that tells us about him, and about us. We're praying boldly that eight hundred and fifty young people will put their faith in Jesus this year. And we're praying that they, and the others at camp, will get plugged into the local church where they'll be discipled to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples. 

Please pray with us for the camps that are happening this week - 

  • for the local church: that they will build relationships with young people from their community and share the Gospel, and that they'll be able to follow up with these students well
  • for the interns and short term teams: that God will use them powerfully as they serve the local churches here, and that God would call some of them to this ministry full time!
  • for students: that God would powerfully draw many to themselves, and that when they go home they would be excited about growing in Christ.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The craziest and sweetest gift in Bulgaria

Part of my role is supporting our newer countries as they begin to do camps, and this was the first short term team Bulgaria had had, even though they've been doing camps for years using interns and staff. So I wanted to go to Bulgaria and cheer them on as they did their first short term team training. 

It was quite a coincidence that their first team happened to be from Northern Ireland! I started to joke that the reason I was heading to Bulgaria was to translate between Northern Irish English and American English... which actually turned out to be part of my role there. It was so good for my soul to soak in and speak Northern Irish for a week - it definitely is its own little language and I forget how many words are unique to the little country I'm from. As I heard about the team beforehand I hadn't heard of the ministry they were coming with, and none of their names sounded familiar so I assumed I didn't know any of them.

Well, after a bit of a rush at the airport and safely making our bus to Velingrad I was sitting beside the team leader and we started to do that Northern Irish thing where you figure out all your mutual connections - especially as he lives five miles from where I'm from, and we are part of the same denomination. 

There were many little connections and mutual friends and then Ray said that he had spoken at a youth rally in my church when James was the pastor. James was the pastor from when I was around ten years old until I was twenty-two so it felt likely that I'd have heard of the event so I asked what the name of it was. He said it was called Star Wars. 

And there, on that little bus, on a little mountain road in Bulgaria, I told Ray that that was the event where I accepted Christ fourteen years ago. I had grown up in the church, and heard all the stories, but there was something about the combination of hearing testimonies of my school friends and a clear gospel presentation that made it all click that night. 

I didn't know the name of the speaker that night, but once we'd made the connection I realised why Ray had seemed familiar. It was so strange and so sweet to be sitting together all these years later telling the story of what God did then and just pieces of what he has done since. It felt like a little foreshadow of heaven, when I imagine we'll praise God by telling in full the stories that we only see glimpses of here on earth.

As I left Bulgaria later that week, and as camp season finishes up here for another year, I left so encouraged by this little interaction. The gospel has been powerfully proclaimed this summer, and many have responded in faith. My prayer is that we'll see these young people get plugged into local churches where they will grow in their faith and change their nations for Christ. 

And who knows what stories we'll be telling fourteen years from now?