Monday, 6 March 2017

Why we do camps

On the Monday before I headed to Prague my friend and teammate Kelly from Poland arrived at my flat and we headed to the office. So part of my day was spent with this view – Ondra recording Kelly for an online training course for those giving the talks at our camps this year.

As we were filming, preparing what would be said, and discussing what we most wanted to communicate, it reminded me again why I am here and why it is such a privilege to join this ministry.

In serving camps internationally I am usually juggling details, keeping track of things, and helping to deliver materials and resources to do camp well. But doing camp well is in no way the end goal. In doing camp well, by weaving the theme throughout all the different elements of the week, and creating excellent resources to be used, we create a beautiful environment in which the gospel is clearly presented and students get to experience the love of Christ.

And we have an incredible opportunity as we come alongside local churches to empower their youth groups to reach their friends. Believing students invite their friends to camp and advertise in local schools knowing that at camp their friends will benefit from an excellent English, sport, or music programme, and they will hear about a God who loves them and wants to have a personal relationship with them.

This year we are praying that we will do one hundred and thirty camps across our thirteen countries. Excellent talks have been written for each evening that beautifully communicate the gospel. We’re praying that each student hears the gospel individually and is personally challenged to follow Christ, and we’re training our short term teams and interns in how to do that well.

We’re so aware that the horse is prepared for battle but the victory belongs to the Lord, and we’re boldly asking Him to already be powerfully at work in the lives and hearts of the students who will be at camp this summer. We’re asking Him to draw many to Himself, and that they will become faithful disciples who make disciples in these nations. All for his glory.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Czech Intensive in Prague!

I've spent much of the last two weeks with this view as I do my Czech intensive in Prague! Each morning from 9.30 until 12.30 has found me wrestling with grammar, pronunciation and new words. It has been so hard and so great at the exact same time. 

Our teacher has been really wonderful. In the picture above are the various forms of him, it, her, and them for the different cases. This is something I've studied multiple times with different teachers but today it seemed to make sense! Not only do you need to just learn all those variations and remember which case they are, but you also need to remember all the verbs and prepositions that lead to each of the cases.

The teacher has also been so kind to teach Kristin and I for an extra ten or fifteen minutes after class each day. There are some holes in our Czech - things we should have learnt at an earlier stage but did not, or did not learn it in a way that we still use. I think that one of the biggest wins of this fortnight has been learning tools that will help me continue to learn and use this language well.

We've also learnt some hilarious things. For example, most of Czech has as a particular way of speaking Czech, except the part where I live. In Silesia, the region I call home, we speak Czech the way it is written. In other parts of Czech, however, they shorten the pronunciation of words, and change endings, and add a v in front of the letter o. Living beside the Polish border comes with its own challenges but I am so glad we speak standard Czech there!

This was definitely one of the funniest exercises of the class - matching the sound to the animal, because you forget that some things don't correlate exactly and while I find it difficult to imagine a frog making a "kva, kva" sound, it doesn't necessarily "ribbet" either. By the way, it's the bear that goes "brum, brum" in the photo above.

Honestly, during the first week of the course I was feeling rather discouraged. The intermediate level of language learning is a long one and progress seems slow. I have really struggled with the declension side of Czech, so the first few days felt overwhelming. One of the things I've had to remind myself of is the progress that I have made, and that I am successful in my every day life. Sure, none of it is perfect and I can't always communicate exactly how I want to but there is success in being able to understand sermons, be in a small group, and navigate everyday life in a foreign country and language. 

With just one class left tomorrow I am feeling mostly encouraged - this language may in fact be learnable. The road to complete fluency is a long one, but God has called me to this language as much as He has called me to this country and to serve Him here. I am so thankful that I was able to take these two weeks to be in Prague and to study, and for the progress I've made. And I'm excited to jump back into "regular life" and hopefully use what I've learnt and continue to make progress!

Monday, 20 February 2017

On a train through the Czech Republic

This coming summer will mark a decade since my first trip to the Czech Republic and I will also celebrate four years of calling this country home. When I was writing my first support letter, writing about what God had called me to and inviting people to partner in His work, I remember going through all my photos of the five times I’d been in Czech up until that point. I also went through all the photos I’d been tagged in on Facebook by teammates, hoping to find photos that communicated the need for and the beauty of the ministry I’d be joining.

And do you know what I found? So many photos of me sleeping, mostly on trains or buses, taken by teammates that I’d no doubt snapped sleeping earlier. None of those photos made the cut to go in the support letter, and I’m not going to post any of them here.

But I have a lot of memories of those summer trains – and they’re mostly fond. Running for trains to take us to short term team training, and crossing the country to travel to the camp location. And the sticky summer heat, the gentle rocking of the train, and the squeaks and squeals as it came to a stop at another unpronounceable station.

I don’t often find myself on a train now that I live here, as it is usually more convenient to travel by car, but I’m on one today. I’m heading across the country to Prague, a journey that takes four hours from the little town I call home. And I could be working or reading but I can’t stop staring out the window.

It helps that, although we’ve had a couple of days where the temperature has been above zero, most of the countryside is still snowy. And when I say that it looks like Narnia part of the movie was filmed here, so you can imagine. There are areas of beautiful tall trees, surrounded with snow.

There are long stretches where we’re going fast, 159km/hour according to the sign at the end of the carriage, and buzzing through the landscape that appears rather monochrome with the white snow, black trees, and grey sky. Every so often another train passes us.

We frequently pass little towns and villages, where there is smoke coming out of chimneys and people going about their days. Often the tallest building in those places is the church building and I wonder if it’s still being used, how many people gather there, and what the neighbours think about the building beside them.

Along the way we’ve also passed through bigger cities. This is a fast train so we stopped in only a couple of them to pick up new people. The cities are often announced by the factories we pass on the way in, and the freight trains ready to transport materials.

When we’re out in the countryside it is quieter and I spotted some deer in the fields. There are also little chatas, little huts, by rivers or with little gardens, that are mostly used in the summer months.

When we pass through train stations I can now pronounce their names, usually pretty well, and some of them are even familiar places where I have been or have friends. And at the train station after I bought my ticket I picked up a food magazine to read on the journey. The language that was once amusing and beyond all understanding now also feels familiar as I work my way towards fluency.

I am so thankful for this little country that I get to call home. I’m thankful for all the little ways it feels familiar and I am praying that this fortnight, as I attend a Czech intensive, that I grow in my ability to communicate with people here. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Show off!

taken in the wilderness in Israel, March 2016

"God, would you just show off?" 

This has been one of my recent repeated prayers. It usually follows a request for him to show up. 

Now, I know God is omnipresent and is with me wherever I go - in fact, the Holy Spirit lives in me! It is such a crazy, beautiful truth. But I still find myself asking him to show up, and maybe that says more about my eyes not always seeing him, or taking the time to look where he is moving. 

So I ask God to show up when I go to youth group - that he'll help me understand the Czech, and guide me in building and deepening relationships. And I ask him to show up when I go to my gym or chat with my neighbours, that I'll have the opportunity to be a light for him. And it's beautiful to see the ways he answers those prayers - and the asking makes me a whole lot easier to see the answers.

And, recently, I've been asking him to show off. To answer prayers and resolve situations in a way that only he can - because there are some situations that only he can resolve. So I'm asking him to come in a mighty way, and show off, and do things only he can do - and in a way that means he gets all the glory. 

I love the verse in Isaiah 42 that says:
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
It's incredible to see God doing what only he can do - turning darkness into light, making rough places level. He's a good, good father, who gives good gifts. And I know that sometimes those gifts are resolution, or him redeeming things I thought were irredeemable. And sometimes those gifts are hope and peace in him and him alone. 

So, I'm asking God to show up and show off this week. And I'm excited to see what he's going to do! 

Monday, 16 January 2017


In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a lot of snow here, the first proper snow of the winter, and a lot more than I captured in the photo of our town hall above. Aside from all fears I have about driving in it, it is beautiful. It’s been a few inches deep and powdery. And it just seems to muffle the world a little. It’s also been pretty cold for a few weeks - for over a week it didn’t get above zero degrees, and there were days when the temperature was below minus fifteen. I experienced the coldest temperatures since I moved here, and learnt that when you walk to youth group in minus twenty your headphone cord freezes. 

This weather means that it takes a little longer to get somewhere. And you need to uncover your car in the morning. It makes everything look beautiful, even if sometimes you want to look out at it, rather than being in it. 

On the first Tuesday morning in January we started our work year at a “Super Good Morning” meeting, meaning that those who serve with JV in Czech and those who live in Czech and serve with JV internationally all met together. We met in our conference centre pictured above - the snow definitely made it look pretty, although it meant we had to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up!

The theme of our time was shalom, the peace God gives us. It was so good to gather together, surrounded by snowy trees and mountains, and seek God together. Although I’ve now taken down my Christmas decorations around my flat, I do not want to forget that the baby who came was called the Prince of Peace. 

During our worship time Bara painted this incredible picture of what she sees peace as - that although there might be chaos around us, and even sometimes within us, we can know peace.

The devotional book I’m using this year has me looking at the Greek of a different verse each day and January 1st looked at the first part of Colossians 3:15 - “let the peace of God rule in your hearts”. The word rule was used for referees or umpires in ancient times. So the verse could be translated as

Let the peace of God be the referee of your hearts.

Let the peace of God govern your hearts.

As I enter 2017 I want that to be true of this whole year. There are some things I am so excited about this year, and some things that I am worried about, and I’m sure there is a lot I have no idea about that is on the horizon. But God is faithful and good, and I want His peace to be the referee of my heart, so that I don’t make decisions out of anxiety or fear, but out of His character and goodness.  

Saturday, 31 December 2016


These nine photos are my most liked photos from 2016 on instagram. And they do capture a decent portion of my life - photos of interns, camp in Croatia, dear friends, travels for work or rest, and craftiness.

There are four countries represented in these photos (Czech, Poland, Slovakia and Croatia) - but 2016 actually saw me visit fifteen countries. Those fifteen are, in order, Czech, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatian, Germany, Italy, France, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I live in one of those countries, am from a second, and of the thirteen remaining all but two were on ministry trips!

There's also a lot about this year that the "best nine" don't capture. One of the highlights of my year was definitely the study tour of Israel I did. And, although it can sometimes be hard to be away from home so much, I adore the variety of the travel I do in my ministry - from conferences in Latvia and Estonia, to camps in Germany and Croatia, it has been an incredible year of seeing up close what God is doing in these nations.

I continue to be in awe of the wonderful people in my life, and I am so grateful for the hours spent with dear friends and family. Whether those hours are spent over meals or late night cups of tea, or through emails and FaceTime. 

I also spent a lot of the year reading - I finished 29 books, and started or am a little way through a few more. The books I finished, averaged over the year, add up to 25 pages a day which feels pretty good! I did finish fewer books than last year but that is largely because I decided to read through the Bible this year and it has been a lot of my reading. I'm not quite finished it - I hope to be done by the end of February, but it has been incredible!

I'm looking at my list of resolutions for 2016 as I write this and I definitely didn't accomplish all that I listed on the paper. But there has been a lot of growth. A year ago, when I sat down to think about the resolutions I thought about who I wanted to be when I'm 90 and wrote out goals that would allow me to grow closer to that. And as I wrote each goal I attached the "why" of it, because I needed to be reminded of the purpose.

I want to be an old woman who sparkles with joy because of her Saviour - and so I set out to read through the entire Bible, I listed things I'm thankful for each night (and wrote out well over one thousand in a year), and I used some great tools to help my prayer life. I am more in love with Jesus now than I was at the beginning of this year, and that is such grace from God.

There were some things that happened this year that I really didn't expect - good and bad, and some things that I had hoped would happen that didn't. But through it all God was ever faithful, and oh so good. And, whatever 2017 holds, I am grateful that that will continue to be true! 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

the stories things tell

There are only a couple of things in life I collect. I have enough books to have started my third bookshelf. I have one Starbucks' mug for each place I've lived. I'm trying to get magnets of the JV countries I visit - but that one proves quite hard when I'm not necessarily in touristy, sells magnets, kind of places when I travel for work.

But as I pulled out my Christmas decorations I realised I may be collecting nativities. And the five I own tell some interesting stories. 

This is the first one I bought. It was a hot, sunny day and a strange one to be buying a magnetic nativity scene. But it was summer 2007, I was in Prague having done my very first English camp, and I was wandering around the market looking for gifts and something for myself. It was my first time in the Czech Republic and, had you asked me, I wouldn't have been able to say with certainty that I'd come back again, let alone live here.

And know that it vaguely bothers me that the wise men face east so they cannot be making some grand entrance from the geographically correct direction.

The next set I bought came a couple of years later - maybe in 2008 or 2009 when I lived in Cardiff. I bought this little set (that also has wise men, a shepherd, a donkey and camel) in Paperchase in the Welsh capital when I was at university there. And now the cast of the Christmas story find themselves dotted around my Christmas tree.

This set is Northern Irish and started off with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The shepherds were added the next year. The characters are made out of clay and made by my very talented best friend, given as Christmas presents a few years ago.

I found this Russian doll nativity set in the John Lewis in Heathrow airport last year when I was on home assignment. It's fun and bright and buying it at the airport meant I didn't pay tax on it. The wise men doll actually has three faces as you rotate it round. I should probably have the wise men standing on the other side of the dresser as that would actually have them coming in from the east (as Poland is just a few hundred metres to the left of this photo).

This one is the most recent addition to the collection. It's made from olive wood and was bought in Nazareth when I was in Israel earlier this year. 

Five different nativity sets, from five different countries, over the last nine years. It's fun to pull them out of the box and decide where and how to display them each year. And they tell beautiful tales of God's faithfulness - in the places I've lived, the relationships I have, and the stories I've gathered.

And they allow me to enter the greatest story. The story that I've heard since before I can remember. The story in which five-year-old me played Mary. The story that each year finds me older and different, and ever in need of it. The story that ever works its way deeper into my bones.