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?

Monday, 21 August 2017

How to pray for camps this week - 21st August

There is just one more camp for this summer! So you'll see that post appear next Monday. Thank you for faithfully praying your way through these last couple of months by following these posts.

Please continue to pray for the follow up as local churches continue to do all the work that comes after camp. Please pray that especially as school starts in just a couple of weeks that young people would continue to go to youth group, Bible studies, and church. We read in the Parable of the Sower about those who hear the word of God and receive it with joy but then without a root they fall away when testing comes. There are also those who respond to the gospel but are "choked by the cares, and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature." We see both these responses happen as "real life" begins again after summer, and school schedules are demanding, and peers and parents aren't sure about this new church thing.

Please join us in praying that those who responded in faith this summer would be like the seed that falls on good soil - they hear the word, hold fast to "in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience." May these nations be changed as young people mature in Christ and bear fruit that yields thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Seeing Dunkirk in Český Těšín

I'm not sure if I've told you about the little cinema in my town, but it may be one of my favourite places here. You see, it's run by an older couple and has these old wooden chairs. I've been to showings that have had just two other people there before and I think the biggest audience I've ever been a part of there was around twenty, and there were at least ten of us as we went to see the new hero movie that had somehow been shown in Český Těšín before anywhere else.

And that is the strange dichotomy of this little cinema - sometimes they'll have the latest movies, although only for a day or two, and other times they'll show movies that came out twenty years ago. There's no arranged seating, which is unusual for Czech, and there's no concession stand either. So you should absolutely bring your own snacks and drinks to enjoy. And I love that I live just a couple of minutes' walk away, rather than needing to drive thirty minutes or so (in Czech or across to Poland) to see a movie.

But my favourite thing about the cinema is definitely the couple that run it. You see, you also get their opinion about your movie choice when you go. I went to see the children's movie Brave there with Kristin and her boys, and afterwards the man wanted to know if we'd understood any of the Czech movie (children's movies are often dubbed, whereas other movies usually have the English with Czech subtitles).

When I went to see Dunkirk I went alone, because I'm an introvert who was enjoying a quiet evening when a lot of people were out of town. And the lady wasn't sure this was a movie I should see on my own, warning me that "It's a war movie, you know? A big war movie." I reassured her that I knew that, and thirty seconds later, her husband asked me a similar question as he checked and perforated my ticket and collected the stub, even though I was less than three metres from where he saw me purchase it.

We chatted as he escorted me to the only screen, and he told me I wouldn't like this movie but that I could sit wherever I wanted - especially as I was the third member of the audience that evening. In our conversation my accent definitely came through and he asked where I was from - when I told him he exclaimed "Aha! Držím palce." That literally means, "I hold my thumbs" but more accurately translates as "I'll keep my fingers crossed" in English. After the movie was over, and the audience of five people filtered out, he wanted to know what I thought, and why I lived in this little border town. 

Dunkirk itself? It was incredible - how the story involves without much dialogue, but so much of the feeling is conveyed so beautifully by the music. I also really enjoyed some of the actors involved - especially Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh. But more than all of those elements it was incredible because of the story it told. When they couldn't get home, home came to rescue them. And in that good story we hear beautiful echoes of the greatest story ever told. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Camps happening this week - 14th 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 Germany
  • one in Romania
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, 9 August 2017

Camp in Bulgaria!

This summer I got to visit Bulgaria to see and cheer on our team down there! I sometimes feel like I have more culture shock visiting some of our southern countries, than I had when I moved to Czech. The culture is just different - a little louder, a little warmer, than I've become used to in Czech. This was true of Bulgaria too - and it was fun to get to know the culture a little better, and to see a little of the beautiful country.

I travelled down on Thursday, a few days before the short term team arrived to help prepare for their arrival. This was our first short term team headed to Bulgaria so it was great to be there to support our staff. It was a little strange to be a country with the Cyrillic alphabet. So many of our countries speak Slavic languages so, even if I don't speak that specific language, there are usually words I recognise. This was not the case in Bulgaria due to the alphabet - although, sometimes when people were talking I caught words or phrases I recognised.

It was great to have a few days of preparation and to be able to get a feel for the town of Velingrad where some of our missionaries are based. I went along with our country leader there, Gabe, as he had a meeting with the town officials who allowed us to use the town stadium for free for camp, and as he stopped by the children's home to say hi.

The team from Northern Ireland, America, and Canada, arrived in on Saturday and we were very thankful that we made the bus for the two hour journey to Velingrad. Some of the team were able to go in our van but with not enough seats I took most of the Northern Irish team on the bus - thankfully I had help getting them on the correct bus as three days is not quite long enough to learn a new alphabet.

With their arrival training began - we spent time over the next couple of days talking about the mission and vision of Josiah Venture and the Bulgaria team, culture, how to build relationships well, how to share the gospel, and all the practical things we needed to cover for a sports' camp! We were also able to go to the local church on Sunday morning.

On Monday afternoon camp began! There were forty-seven students there who were connected to the local church or our missionaries in Velingrad, or connected to other local churches across Bulgaria through various outreach ministries. There were also seven students from the children's home we'd stopped by on Friday. This was a big camp! And it was so fun to see the short term team members, and interns and staff, serving all these students. Our interns in Bulgaria probably get the prize for doing the most camps in the summer - I think this was the sixth camp for most of them!

Our mornings started with the camp dance and some stretching altogether, followed by a short testimony from a team member. Then students were in three groups (girls, older boys, and younger boys) which each went through skill time in three sports. The sports during the week were football, volleyball, Ultimate Frisbee, basketball, and fitness! After each skill time there were more short testimonies from team members.

In the afternoons there was movie or pool time, followed by the main talk for the day. After the talk time there were discussion groups to help students process what they'd been hearing about Jesus and how he sees them. After discussion groups ended, usually around six, there was more sport time - this time we were in our six discussion group teams and we played three games (usually football and Frisbee, plus another from that day). And then there was "shower hour" for everyone to get clean after a full day of lots of sports, followed by some chill time of playing board games or ping pong before bedtime.

This is Cvete, who I got to know during camp! I'm so thankful for how relationships can be built across languages and cultures, and for the time I got to spend with this lovely lady, and others, during camp.

The town's stadium was a great place to host camp - and it's incredible that not only were we able to use it, but that we were able to use it for free. With Bulgaria's strong Orthodox tradition, evangelical Christianity is definitely seen as a cult. Like many of our countries, this is a big challenge especially when young people go home from camp or other outreach events, talking about this Jesus they've just heard about, who may have changed their lives. Unfortunately, this often leads to parents banning their children from attending church and youth group.

I left midway through camp to head home to Czech. It was definitely hard to leave camp and the people I had gotten to know there. But it was such a joy to hear that seven young people gave their lives to Christ that week! Bulgaria doesn't have a lot of youth ministry happening, and churches are small and cannot afford to have youth workers full time. So if anything is happening for young people, it is often led by young students who are often busy or not always around. Also, there aren't always a lot of opportunities for work in Bulgaria so people move away, or work in another European country much of the year. There are definitely a lot of challenges to raising up a new generation of committed disciples in this country, but God is most definitely at work.

As I flew out of Bulgaria early on Thursday morning my heart was full - from connecting with our incredible staff and interns in that country, from getting to speak Northern Irish and meeting the short term team, from getting to know students, and from seeing little glimpses of what God is doing in that country. I'm praying that we'll see Him move in even mightier ways in this place in the years to come.

Monday, 7 August 2017

How to pray for camps this week - 7th August

This week there are not any camps happening! We're not quite done with camps for the summer though. And, actually, as camp ends in many ways the real work begins so this week would you please join me in praying for all the local churches who have done camp this year? Please pray for them as they follow up with students and start to disciple them. 

By the end of this week most of our interns will have also left. We're praising God for all these wonderful people who joined his work here this summer. Please be praying for them also as they head home - in America or Europe - that they will remember how God changed their lives and lives around them this year. 

It's been incredible to see little glimpses of what God has been up to this summer - and I know that they are only little glimpses.