Monday, June 21, 2010

Bratislava Here I Come

Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia, about 25 miles east of Vienna and about 90 miles south of our new home town of Zlín.  One part of the complex new rules that govern visas for the European Union countries is that one must apply for a visa at an embassy of the host country and NOT within the country itself.  So, we had to travel to an embassy of the Czech Republic to file our application.  Bratislava happens to be the closest city in which the Czech Republic has an embassy; so, off we went.  A photo nearby shows one of the beautiful squares we had to traverse on our way to the embassy.

Since our appointment was at 9:00 a.m., we left our flat at 4:15 a.m. to catch the bus to the train station.  The trains in the Czech Republic are a mixture of modern and communist era equipment; the train schedules include express trains (usually between major cities) that only stop once or twice, regional trains that only stop a few more times, and Osobní (personal) trains that stop every 15 feet to allow farmers and their small goats on board. 

We were accompanied by Sid Anderson who has worked very diligently on our visas and work permits.  In a nearby photo, Sid is sporting his Czech sack; virtually all Czechs carry some sort of sack/bag/backpack/purse/large wallet when they're in public, men and women alike, so Sid is just "going native" here.

In one photo, you can see the front of the Czech embassy in Bratislava.  God was gracious to us in this encounter.  The lady with whom we had our appointment was kind and spoke good English.  Although she threw us a few curve balls by asking for documents that we did not have, in the end, she stamped our passports to reserve a place for our long term visas!  She told us we would hear from them in about 60 days.  Thanks to all who have prayed for this process!  Please continue to ask the Lord to see us through the final steps.

Worship In Zlín

Sunday morning about 10:00 we walk from our flat through town to the office building where the Církev Reformovaná Zlín gathers. It is our third official Sunday here. Greetings of “Dobry Den” and “Ahoy” meet us as we arrive. We give similar greeting to others as they arrive. Hugs, smiles and questions about the week are exchanged. A fairly normal Sunday morning, except that it is in Czech.

Tables and chairs are arranged, the projector set up, and instruments tuned, the Lord’s Supper set out as preparations are made for Worship. As everyone settles into their seats, we begin with a call to Worship. I must say that other than knowing that it comes from Scripture and recognizing a word here and there, it is mostly unintelligible to my mind. We sing several songs. All lovely, and sweet harmony and praise fills the air. One of the songs we sing in Czech first and then in English. (We are fortunate that so many of the church members speak some English, though not all. I think that otherwise, we would feel shut out and very isolated.) As we sing several of the little girls come up to the front and dance, smiles wreath their faces and many in the congregation smile as they watch.

There are many here that we have met before through summer English camp or at the Sunday services held at camp. Some we have met for the first time. Michal and Eva -- new believers, they are a great encouragement to the church that God is continuing to open eyes and hearts to see the beauty of Christ. Their lives have been and continue to be changed - radically and dramatically - by our glorious Christ. Another young man who has been attending English Plus (the English Language School) has attended church the last two Sundays. We are encouraged by that.

We all come –looking –seeking to see and be filled with the Spirit of Christ. His presence is among us. Attention is given to the Word. (The church has two Sunday school classes for the little ones.) This morning Rene preaches using the text from John 4. When I ask one of the members what he talked about, she said it was about finding our joy not in our circumstances but in our Savior. That is our ever present struggle, finding our joy in God alone and nothing or no one else.

Each Sunday after the preaching, there is a time for the giving of offerings. Sometimes I think that we most clearly display God’s character and grace through giving—giving joyfully. For surely He Himself gave His very own life for the joy set before Him. It was in His giving (or loosing) that He gained—a glory—a crown—a throne—a kingdom and a people. After the offering, the Lord’s Supper is served; the simple passing of the bread and the wine, partaking together as one body of believers, a visible representation of the great, incredible mercy of our Lord. We sing “Králi Můj” (My King) taken from Zalm 42,6. The worship is closed with the Lord’s Prayer or a confession of faith, and a pronounced blessing. Many here hold their hands out as they receive the blessing.

Fellowship after Church

As the service concludes people begin to talk. Some greet the visitors who slipped in toward the end of Rene’s sermon to sit on the sofa. The tables and chairs are re-arranged, this time for a light snack or meal. Each week one volunteer brings some sort of spread or pomazanka for bread and another some sort of sweet. It is not unusual for the visiting to last for two or more hours. It is good to see this desire for fellowship with one another. Because of schedules and distance of travel, this is the only time that the church gathers during the week. When it is time to go, tables are put up, chairs lined up for the next week, all the dishes washed in the kitchen area. (There is no sink, only dishpans of hot water that are carried to the kitchen.) One is used to wash and another two are used to rinse the plates, cups and silverware.) Everyone pitches in to help. At last, with everything in order, goodbyes are said; hugs and handshakes are given as the church leaves the small rooms that serve as the place of worship in downtown Zlín to go to the greater, wider field of communities in Moriava.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Exploring Zlín

We ventured out to the street market this week.  It is only about 2 blocks from the flat.  We have found several local post offices at which we can mail letters, met with our new Czech language teacher Janá (class starts Monday at 9:00), experienced several trips to the grocery store, shopped for a pračha and sušička (that’s a washer and a dryer) and we have been to the Lékárna (pharmacy to buy sunscreen) and the Nábytek (to look for wardrobes, there are no closets in any apartment here for holding and hiding stuff.)

After a visit with our landlords, we have decided that our mailing address is Březnická 5565/ 41, 76001 Zlin CR. We are now the Johnsonoví. Johnny is still Johnny Johnson (actually they call him Johnnyho), and I am now Annette Johnsonová.

Today we are going back to the market for more fresh veggies, to the bank to open a Czech checking account, and to the Obchodní Dům later this afternoon to purchase the pračha and sušička, with the help of Šarka and Honsa.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Moving Update- Our First Days

The last two weeks have been wonderful, intense, full of grace and the love of the saints. We have experienced many sweet times of prayer and words of grace. Truly you have loved us well. I pray that Christ will strengthen us and enable us to love our Czech friends even as you have loved us.

Tuesday morning found us stuffing pillows and pajamas into the suitcases as we prepared to leave the house we have lived in for over 33 years. We loaded 5 full sized suitcases, 2 carry-ons, a backpack and a large “purse” into the car. We headed over to Process-Barron to pick up Joel and meet Alan and Sally. With the cars full we drove to the airport, checked in and said quick good-byes. We definitely needed help with all of the suitcases! The flight was about 16 hours from Birmingham to Vienna and totally uneventful. That’s a good thing. We did have to go through customs in Munich, but did not have to gather all of our bags and recheck them. (Yeah!) We had an hour or two in Munich and enjoyed sitting in a café with a nice cup of coffee to help us wake up. I’m not sure that it was really effective because as soon as we were seated on the plane to Vienna we both promptly went to sleep.

Looking weary after our long trip

After our arrival in Vienna, we gathered all of our bags on a cart—they all were together on the baggage carousel! We walked through the “nothing to declare” door to meet our team members. Sid and Louise Anderson, Hans and Gretchen Deutschmman and Rene Drapala all met us and after many hugs and a few pictures, we headed to the cars and the road trip to Zlin. We arrived in the apartment around 6:30 p.m. tired and excited. The landlord has left all of the furniture in the apartment so we are not sleeping on air mattresses as we thought we would be.

With the team in our new apartment
We have spent the last few days getting settled in. The first order of business was to report to the foreign police, so Thursday morning Sid took us there and we were able to register. The gentleman was very gracious to us—they were actually closed but allowed us to enter and registered us anyway. Sid said that the man seemed very impressed with our papers and what we had done to prepare. We think that when we go to Bratislava to the Czech Embassy to apply for the visas that the papers will be sent back to the very office we have already visited.

The other events are not as exciting. We went to the OBI (kind of like a Lowes) to purchase a toilet paper holder. I’m not sure if it is customary here to have to buy your own for an apartment or not. We have ventured out to buy some groceries, gotten our internet connected, and walked through the local “farmers market” that is only two blocks from the apartment.

fresh produce from the market

The more exciting things of the past days (besides simply being here at last) have been in connection with the Zlin International children’s film festival. The first morning we looked out our window, we saw lots of animals walking across the street to board a bus. Well, actually they were people dressed as animals and other characters. We ran to grab cameras to take pictures. The next morning people in front of the auditorium were filling up a hot air balloon. We enjoyed watching them launch and sail into the sky. Then, Saturday night we were greeted by fireworks.

All the Animal Characters
Watching the balloon lift off

Thank you all for praying for our trip. We are truly grateful. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Report to Faith Church

Thank you dear friends, family, congregation, Alan and Sally, Elders and Deacons, Czech mission team, and all those we have loved and been loved by for the past 33 years. God has used you to train, correct, nurture, and prepare us for the work that we are now going to do. We treasure the time we have had with you. It has been a privilege to serve the Lord with you. It is a great joy and privilege to be sent by you to the people of the Czech Republic. It is not an easy thing to leave your warm embrace.

Nearly all of our Christian lives have been spent here. The story of our call to missions started here with a series of short term mission trips to teach English in the Czech Republic. God made it plain to Annette in 2006 that we should go to the Czech Republic as missionaries; it took me a couple of years to understand that she was right. God is able to work with those who catch on quickly as well as those who take a good while longer. We have seen God’s hand in every facet of our walk toward the mission field. He has provided excellent training for us through Mission to the World. He has raised up financial and prayer support for us from people and places that we would never have thought about. He has used this congregation to encourage, supply, and bless us at every step.

The Czech people have a rich Christian heritage. After Jan Hus was martyred in 1415 for his bold reformist stand, the Czechs established a powerful nation in which the Gospel flourished for over 200 years.  In the early eighteenth century, the Moravians established the first significant protestant missionary movement in history and held a 24 hour prayer vigil that lasted 100 years. Sadly, these things are largely forgotten, or simply ignored, by 21st century Czechs.

God has birthed in our hearts a great desire to see Him raise up another Jan Hus, another Moravian missionary movement, another 100 year prayer meeting. Please pray with us for the Czech people. Today, they are one of the most atheistic nations on earth, and proud of it. Pray for revival there. Pray boldly and regularly. Please pray with us for the tiny Reformed Church in Zlin. Pray for the Pastor and leaders of the church.  Pray for the vision of the church members; they need to be stirred to action and prayer for their lost nation. Pray for the missionaries who are there; they have labored long with little fruit. Pray for us as we go; we will need God’s strength at every step. Please pray that God would raise up a new generation of missionaries to take our place.

One of our MTW trainers challenged us to consider that most of us have a very small vision for what God wants to do in His world. He asked us to think about the greatness of God and how our vision should match his glory. For God has said the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, even as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).

Instead of desiring to see God convert our next door neighbors, why not our whole neighborhood; instead of our neighborhood, why not our entire city; instead of our city why not our nation? Instead of a healthy little church in Zlin, why not a Christian Czech nation? Our vision is that on the last day, that great day of the Lord, when the LORD Christ asks “Who is here from among the Czech people?” we want to hear a thundering shout, and we want the whole Czech nation to be shouting on that day.

We love you so much.