Saturday, October 23, 2010


A fellow missionary and friend buried his infant son earlier this week.  I can't imagine a more debilitating event.  Undoubtedly, this sucked all the emotional oxygen out of his life, making it almost impossible to breathe.  This set me to thinking about our weaknesses.

Weakness is defined as a lack of strength, a frailty that could give way under pressure. Weakness is not something we would recognize as a viable strategy. We would surely not pursue it as a means of victory. Yet it is precisely the strategy that Jesus used to conquer his and our enemies. Jesus’ disciples and his enemies both expected that he would seek to employ the “ordinary” means of gaining victory for his cause – connecting with the wealthy and powerful people, gathering a large following, leading an insurrection, overthrowing the cruel Roman oppressors. Satan, in his temptation of Christ, tried to lure Jesus into showing off his power by making bread to relieve his suffering and to show off his connection to God by jumping off the temple building; he also offered him the opportunity to rule over the earth; these offers display a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus’ plan to use weakness as the means to achieve victory. Paul says in II Cor. 13:4 that Jesus was crucified in weakness.

We would never think to employ weakness as a route to victory, but our leader did exactly that. If Jesus is our example, should we not at least consider how our weaknesses might become the strategy and the means of our victory and God’s victory through us?  In II Cor. 12: 9,10 Paul says: “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” This seems to me to say that God is better seen in our weakness and frailty than he is in our strength and power.

I don’t know about you, but I normally don’t go around thinking about how my struggles with sin, my difficulties in life, how my infirmities might be the very thing God would use most in my life to show his power to others - at least not until recently.  As of today, weakness is about all I’ve got to offer.  I once had (or at least I thought I had) some skill, some facility in teaching and training people, some place of power in God’s service that he might be able to use.  That’s all gone.  I am standing at the threshold of a new understanding: my weaknesses and struggles are not something to be managed and to get beyond as soon as possible, they are the essence of God’s strategic plan – first in Jesus, now in me.  If God can use a bumbling weakling and struggler like me to help break down the gates of hell, it will be to the eternal frustration and defeat of our enemy and to the eternal praise and glory of our God. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Town That Baťa Built

The 21 Building

View of Baťa Housing Development

Although Zlín has been in existence since the early 14th century, it was a sleepy little village until the Baťa (pronounced Batya) family shoe business began to thrive around 1900. Like many European families, the Baťa family had a trade they had practiced for many generations – they were cobblers. Tomáš Baťa was born in Zlín in 1876 and started his own shoe manufacturing shop in 1894. The population of Zlín was around 3,000 in those days.

Typical Baťa House

Baťa traveled to America and studied the manufacturing methods of Henry Ford and other mass manufacturers. He returned to his home town and applied these principles to his shoemaking factory. From very humble beginnings, he built a worldwide empire that still employs over 50,000 people in 70 countries. Baťa was also far ahead of his time in his concern for his employees and the environment in which they lived and worked. He built over 2,000 modern houses for his workers, a large hospital, a technical college, and an award winning factory (see nearby pictures). He paid wages that were around 50% higher than the prevailing wage at the time. When Tomáš Baťa died in a tragic airplane accident in 1932, the population of Zlín had soared to over 26,000, almost entirely due to the employment offered by his company. Sadly, during the communist rule of this city, the factory declined and the Baťa company has only a small presence here today.

The views we enjoy from our front windows are of the well-known 21 bulding, one of the first central European skyscrapers. We are growing to love this city, so we appreciate the excellent things that Mr. Baťa built. So far, we have found no record of his spiritual life – perhaps that will be another story.

A Nearby Street with Baťa Houses

Changes in Latitude

We awoke this morning to the first light frost of the fall season - just another reminder that we're in a very different place!  I checked the weather for Birmingham and the predicted high for this afternoon is 90° F; we'll make it to 56° F here, if the sun stays out all day.  On the street, we already see heavy coats, scarves, hats, and boots.  It looks like most folks here have closets full - ummmm.... make that wardrobes full, there's no such thing as a closet here - of serious winter gear.  There are a few homeless people living in Zlín.  We see them hanging around the bus terminal and in the parks.  The winters here must be very harsh for them.

In God's good providence, we have some pretty serious winter gear ourselves.  From the looks of things, we'll get to use it soon.