Monday, December 12, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Long Stay Visa

The Czech Republic changed their immigration laws in January 2011, making it more difficult for foreigners to enter and stay in their country.  Stricter health insurance requirements, a biometric ID card, and a shift in the ministry responsible for issuing the visas all added up to a much longer process for us this year. 

We started the process back in March by applying for a renewal of our work permits.  That went pretty well, so we assumed the remainder of the steps would fall in place as they had in 2010.  With our renewed work permits (and all the other papers) in hand we set off for the Interior Ministry office to apply for and hopefully obtain our visas.  A young man greeted us and looked through all of our papers.  He asked us if we had a Czech health insurance card.  No, we replied, we have US insurance.  He told us we needed to have Czech health insurance.  (We have found out since this event that we probably are required by the new law to have Czech health insurance.)  Nonetheless, he graciously took all of our papers and told us that they would call us in about a month.

Before that month was up, we once again went to the office to check on the visas, having heard nothing from them.  Our old visas were to expire soon and we would need a temporary extension.  They graciously pasted a temporary visa into our passports.  They told us they would call when the visas were ready, hopefully before the middle of October, when the temporary ones expired.

So, on the first of October, having heard nothing from the Interior Ministry, we once again visited to check on the visas.  Still our new visas were not ready and our temporary visas were about to expire, again.  The woman helping us looked at our paperwork and asked several questions.  There seemed to be some sort of problem with the information they had in our files.  It appeared that she did not understand what it was, and we certainly did not know.  In the end, she put another temporary visa in our passports.  It was good until the middle of December.

At the end of all this visa drama, we are very happy to report, we received our new visas just last week.  Thank you for praying with us about this!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Church Retreat

We just returned from our second church retreat.  Since there was a Czech national holiday on Thursday of last week, many of our church members had the opportunity to spend an extra-long weekend together.  The fellowship was awesome!

We were also introduced to a Czech filmed titled “Občanský průkaz“, or “Citizen’s identity card”.  It told the story of four Czech families living in communist-controlled Prague in the waning days of the USSR.  Our Czech friends wanted us to see this film because they believe it accurately depicts the conditions under which Czechs lived at that time.  It would be difficult to survive such a depressing environment and remain unscathed.  Sadly, many were deeply affected and the wounds are not yet fully healed.
We went on a couple of hikes to the nearby Catholic pilgrimage site on Hostýn hill.  The hoar frost on the trees there was truly beautiful; some pictures are included in this post.
We enjoyed several wonderful times of singing, praying, and studying together; and we returned very much refreshed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Good Beginning

One of the doors God seems to be opening for us here is the opportunity to help develop and teach a small part of a training program for Czech church leaders.  We will be working with the Czech Republic branch of Martin Bucer Seminary and an evangelical church near Prague to create and test an on-site, Czech language program that will include courses in theology, Bible, and counseling. Mentoring will be an integral component of the program, too, and the participants will be challenged to find other men to mentor during the time they are active in the program. 

The men from the evangelical church are currently serving as elders.  They are aware that they are also the “guinea pigs” for the first trial of the training program.  On Friday, Johnny traveled with René Drápala to a small village near Prague to begin the work.  Veteran missionary Marshall Brown is also a leader in the development and testing; he and his wife  hosted the entire group (pictures nearby). 

It was a delight to spend time with these men, both in the classroom and just sitting around the kitchen table talking about life.  It is a privilege to be involved in such a needed work.  Please pray with us that we will be guided as we seek to develop the curriculum and as we test the good ideas René and Marshall already have; and pray for these men that they and their church will grow, and as a result, God’s kingdom will grow and he will be honored.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ephesus Was…

Scale Reconstrction of Temple of Artemis
Originally founded as an Ionian colony in the 10th century B.C., Ephesus became an important port city and a center of worship for the goddess Artemis.  After their membership in the Ionian League of city states, Ephesus was ruled by the Cimmerians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuk Turks, and the Ottoman Empire. 
Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman Empire – and second largest in the world - second only to Rome in importance to the Empire.  When the Apostle Paul planted a church there, the city’s population was more than 250,000.  During the rule of the Byzantine Empire, Ephesus retained its status as the second city of that empire.  When its harbor silted up and an earthquake struck in 614 A.D., the city began to decline.  
Facade of Library

Today there is a modern town (Efes) nearby the ancient ruins of Ephesus, but it is small and relatively insignificant in comparison to the once-great port city.  The ruins of Greco-Roman Ephesus have been partially reconstructed and are truly beautiful.
It was a privilege to be able to visit this city and walk on the streets and through the markets where Paul probably walked.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer is Past, A New Season is on the Way

There are not really too many hot days here, even in the “heat” of the summer.  The crisp morning air over the past few days has hinted that there won’t be any more hot weather for the next six or seven months.  The days are shortening dramatically, too.

So, what’s coming next?  Fall, of course – it’s one of our favorite seasons.  But what else is on the way?  Hmmm… We have fall and winter plans that include helping with a morning mom’s group, teaching Czech church leaders, leading bible studies, hosting prayer groups, starting one or more small groups in homes, meeting with people to do one-on-one Bible reading, publishing a book, and more.  Will God show up in any of these things?  We sure hope so.  As much as we have thought and prayed about these plans, the real power needed to move hearts toward Christ is supernatural power.

So, we need you to keep praying with us that God would either further these plans and ideas or show us where he wants us to be working.  Thank you for all the ways you do pray for us.  We believe the Lord hears.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Camp’s Over

I know there has been a lot of conversation about the value of short-term mission work.  The very first short-term mission trip I took was heavily criticized - by a member of my church - as a waste of time and money.  It could easily be argued (and it often is) that the money used to send short-term missionaries all over the world could be much better spent by just giving it to the native Christians for their work.  There is some truth to that; but, any consideration that focuses primarily on the financial aspect of such mission work will come up short.

So, how much can be done in a one or two week mission effort?  Well, I have personally seen buildings built, classes taught, people’s hearts changed, and lasting friendships begun through these short-term works.  So, those who are seeking for tangible benefits from short-term mission trips can find them pretty easily.  There are other benefits, too. 

One of them is the gospel passion that short-term missionaries take home to their sending churches.  Most pastors I know would give their right arms if the majority of their members would begin to see themselves as sent people.  Reporting short-term missionaries can convey this truth in ways that pastors never could.  After all, my pastor is paid to say stuff like that to me and I can tune it out pretty effectively.  But when the lady who sits next to my family in Sunday School comes back from her mission trip on fire for what Jesus is doing in Ecuador, I have a much harder time dismissing the message. 

Another benefit is that God frequently uses these short-term missions to call people into full time mission work.  We are living proof of that.      

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Some Fun and Games

During this second week of camp Annette is working with the 8-10 year olds.  They are enjoying Czech-lish, reading Matthew 6 and 7, playing games like Apples to Apples and sight word bingo.  Today they worked on a macramé project and once everyone caught on it was a little difficult to get the children to quit.  

 Later, they had another fun adventure waiting for them.  They were handed a list of clues of things to find in Bystřice Pod Hostýnem with the directive that they also had to return with a picture of the group in front of each object.  To say the least, they enjoyed the outing and so did the teachers.  Although, I think their favorite part was the zmrzlina (ice cream).


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don’t stop praying now

Have you ever wondered if you were just wasting your time when you were praying?  Has it ever felt like the prayers you were praying didn’t get much higher than your living room ceiling?  Does God really listen to us when we pray?  This is not a new question.  David asked in Psalm 13, “How long O lord?  Will you forget me forever?”
God DOES hear.  Our prayers are really an admission that we can’t do for ourselves what we need – we must have God’s help.  Even though God may delay in his response or answer in some way we didn’t expect or desire, he is tenderly disposed to hear our cries and help us just like a loving mother hears and responds to the cries of her baby. 

Sometimes God’s answer is so startling that it shocks us back into the place he wants us to be – that place of assurance that he has always been listening and has already designed an answer that perfectly fits the situation in every way.

So, don’t stop praying for the Czech people.  We have seen beautiful evidence of God’s work in several hearts these past two weeks.  Some have been slowly awakened to the reality of Jesus’ love; others have begun to seek him.  They all need our prayers.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Years ago, my home church would occasionally host a no-talent night at which anyone who was willing could present a poem, skit, song, or whatever they thought would amuse the audience.  The basic idea was that you didn’t need to have any talent to participate.  Some folks took that literally and so the presentations ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.  I’m not talking behind anyone’s back here.  I personally scripted and participated in some of the worst offerings that ever appeared in that venue.

I was reminded this morning that Jesus isn’t too concerned about the quality or quantity of our talents; he’s a lot more interested in what we do with them.  Jesus calls me to invest my talents – whatever they are, small or great – in the expansion of his kingdom.  I really don’t have much to offer the Czech people.  I don’t speak their language well, I am a stranger in their culture, I have not lived their history; but God is both willing and able to multiply the tiny offering I bring.  I am very encouraged by that. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Say What??!!!

The claims of Jesus are so counterintuitive, so radical that they often catch me off guard; I’ve been a Christian for almost 40 years.  One of the most amazing things that he ever said was, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  To help me grasp the meaning of this, I need to put it in simpler terms – maybe something like this: If we believe in Jesus, death cannot kill us.  What?!  That doesn’t even begin to make sense – until we consider Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

To understand the amazing claims of Jesus, we MUST have the help of God’s Spirit.  Apart from his help, such statements of eternal truth just fly over our heads.  Please pray with us that the Spirit will work in the hearts of all those who have come to English camp this week to enable us to hear and believe.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Like the Wind

Jesus once told a curious visitor that the Spirit of God is like the wind.  You can’t understand exactly where the wind is going and you really can’t see it, but it is known by its effects.  The Holy Spirit operates in similarly mysterious ways.  His direction is not always clearly discernable, but you can tell where he is at work by the things that are happening.

For the last three evenings, Dale VanDyke has been speaking to our campers and staff about the truths found in the Beatitudes.  His short messages have had an impact.  Some of our friends have been moved to consider the claims of Christ.  Such stirrings are the work of the Spirit, and we are blessed to be able to see them.

Please pray with us that these good beginnings would continue in the hearts of our friends and bear fruit to eternal life.  Please pray for Dale, too; he has had a big struggle with jet lag.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Big Garden

The Czech Republic is a beautiful country. Many Czechs have gardens, either around their homes, or at their chaty. A chata is a small retreat. Many Czechs own one. It is usually a very small cabin – many times little more than a shack – in which there may not be any electricity or running water. These little houses are especially desired by those who live in crowded city housing. They provide a quiet place and a patch of ground to tend. The gardens around these tiny retreats are exceptionally well tended and full of flowers, vegetables, and berry-bearing plants.

The entire country resembles one of these beautiful gardens, but on a larger scale. We often thank God that we are so privileged to serve in such a beautiful place. Nearby is a view from the front driveway of the Penzion at which English camps are held, and some pictures of Czech gardens. The whole countryside is manicured by loving hands. Pray with us that these gardeners would begin to see the beauty of Him who put us in that first garden long ago.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Camp is HERE!

The summer English camps have been one of the highlights of our year for a long time now.  We so look forward to seeing friends from home and from around our new country.  This is the only time during the year when we will see most of them. 

So, we were thrilled when the team from the US arrived in Zlin on Friday.  Saturday morning we drove from Zlin to the little Penzion where camp is held each year.  With the arrival of each carful of folks, the level of noise from the joyful chatter rose higher and higher. 

On Sunday, the Zlin church joined us for worship in the chapel.  Our speaker this year is Dale VanDyke of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He spoke Sunday morning from the Beatitudes about how God, in Jesus, blesses losers and rebels.  It seemed to me that God was present and pleased to use Dale’s words.

Please pray with us for our campers, our classes, and our hearts as we seek to serve our friends and as we seek them on Jesus’ behalf.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Missing the Air in the South

Alan and Sally
Sometimes you don’t know how much something is worth until it is taken away.  Living in the “Bible Belt” it was relatively easy to find spiritual nurture.  Yes, it still required work to get up early to read our Bibles and pray each morning, but the soul food that we got from Christian radio, our small group meetings, sermons, and Sunday school classes was sort of like air – it was just there all the time.  When we moved to the Czech Republic, the “air” was all gone!  

Yes, we do still go to church on Sundays, but the messages are all in Czech, there is no Sunday school, and no Christian radio.  We have started a small group, and those relationships are growing deeper, but many times the conversation and the prayers are in Czech.  “Don’t you guys already speak Czech?” you might ask.  Yes and no.  Our Czech skills are still at a pre-school level.  We often don’t get much from the prayers or conversations of our dear Czech friends, and very little from the sermons in church.

So, we are really appreciative of the ministry plan that MTW has in place to send PCA pastors to visit mission teams at least once each year.  We are doubly blessed by this plan since the pastor assigned to our team happens to be Alan Carter, the pastor of our home church in Birmingham!  In May, Alan and his wife Sally came for a long weekend and went with our team on a two day mini-retreat to the nearby city of Olomouc.  There are some pictures from the retreat posted nearby.  We enjoyed some English worship, times of extended prayer, and several encouraging messages from Alan.  Alan and Sally also took time to be alone with each of the missionary couples here to nurture and to encourage them.  It was a blessed time.
So, the next time you are bored by your pastor’s sermon, or distracted in Sunday school, or weary of the regularity of your small group meetings, please think about losing all of those things.  They are more valuable than you might imagine.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Slavic Epic and Moravský Krumlov

Throughout this year we have heard so much about the Slavic Epic that is located in the small village of Moravský Krumlov. Last year during camp there was a Mucha Exhibit at the zámek in Holešov. Many of the campers went to see it and I had the opportunity to go with them.  The exhibit was comprised almost entirely of Mucha’s posters and advertizing art.  But, while there I saw a video about Alfons Mucha. That is where I first heard of what he considered to be his greatest accomplishment, The Slavic Epic. I was struck by the emotion of the faces he painted in his Epic, that I longed to see his paintings in person.
Interesting symbol on the wall of a building

Moravský Krumlov

In the yard of the Zámek

Entrance to the Exhibit
So, knowing that Erin loves art, and desiring to also see this great work that we have heard so much about, we took her to the town of Moravský Krumlov to see the Slavic Epic. Alfons Mucha painted these masterpieces depicting Slavic history between the years 1910 and 1928.  This is a series of 20 huge –gianormous- paintings portraying the most important events in Slavic history, at least according to Mucha.  He is known throughout most of the world for his Art Nouveau style, seen mostly in posters designed for advertisements.  He gained much of his acclaim and popularity when actress Sarah Bernhardt hired him to design all of her posters.  The posters are unique and beautiful, but simply nothing to compare with the emotion the Slavic Epic draws from the soul.  The faces of the people in Mucha’s Epic display a wealth of human emotion: sorrow, fear, uncertainty, dismay, pain.  One of the greatest emotions that can be seen in the Epic is the powerful force of hope.

        You can see from this picture just how large the paintings really are; the artist is sitting in front.
The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivancice

The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia

I hope that you will take the time to look at some of the others for yourself.   

To read more see:  follow the gallery link to the pictures, the link is at the end of the page on the Slavic Epic.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Sweet Treat ~ Erin’s Visit

What a sweet treat for Johnny and I to have our daughter Erin visit with us for two weeks in May. We picked her up in Vienna on a Tuesday morning and soon after settled into a nice coffee, chocolate and sandwich shop for a little needed caffeine-picker-upper. We did many of our normal life activities while she was with us; Wednesday evening prayer group, Sunday evening worship, and Czech lessons. We spent time just being together, seeing some of the local sites and visiting with friends.  

One afternoon we went to one of the small villages just down the road, about 10 kilometers away. The town is home to a glass factory, and the famous Czech slivovice factory. We did not visit the slivovice factory! There are also several small shops with handcrafted Czech items.

Our Czech teacher, Jana took us to the Shoe museum that is here in Zlin. There is quite a large collection of shoes from all over the world. Some shoes that neither you nor I would ever wish to wear! Many seemed to be almost in style even though they were decades old. You know they say fashion repeats itself. Solomon himself said that there is nothing new under the sun. I’m not sure that he was referring to shoes, although it fits….


Monday, May 23, 2011

Visiting in Znojmo

If Znojmo (pronounced ZNO-yee-mo) were located anywhere in the United States, it would receive millions of visitors every year. Its gothic cathedral, town tower, and picturesque squares would be plastered on postcards, calendars, and tourist brochures. Situated in Southern Moravia, near the Austrian border, this little city does entertain thousands of visitors each year; Annette and I recently added to that number when we went to visit our friends Jarek and Ema Chudobovi. We have included some pictures of the town in this post. The main reason for our visit was that I had been invited by Jarek and the other elders in his church to preach one Sunday in April.

We really enjoyed our time with Jarek, Ema, and their little daughter Anežka. In many ways, their struggles and joys would be familiar to any young Christian family trying to live out their faith in a secular culture. One thing that makes Ema and Jarek a bit unusual is that they have several close relatives who are also Christians. Most evangelical Czech Christians we know are first generation Christians with few, if any, other Christians in their families. So, most evangelical Christians here have grown up without the benefit of the example of Christian parents, without the understanding of church life that comes from being raised in a church, and without the solid foundation in God’s word that comes from years of learning in Sunday school. As a result of these disadvantages, evangelical churches often struggle to deal with parenting issues and marriage problems.

So, it was no surprise when Jarek asked me to preach on some topic related to marriage. I was encouraged by the Spirit to speak from Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. God was gracious and helped me deliver a simple message about how God’s forgiveness of us empowers us to forgive. After church, we enjoyed lunch with our hosts and another young couple from their church who work as shepherds.

Please continue to pray for Czech Christians, and especially for their pastors. They are fighting the same battles you are, but with a lot fewer resources.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On a Bit of a Different Note....

Our visit to Edinburgh Scotland was so very encouraging. It is a beautiful city, and history lines the streets. The great song writer, Horatius Bonar is buried there at the Cannongate Kirk. We visited the Grassmarket, and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to see the Covenanter Monuments. Johnny traveled to Dundee to visit the Church where Robert Murray M'Cheyne preached. Part of the conference was held there.

 Chaplins and Johnsons at the Castle

During the conference Johnny was able to spend valuable time with many of the men who have so much practical experience planting churches. We both were encouraged by our time with Carl and Becky Chaplin. They were in the Czech Republic for many years before God called them to Latvia. We had a thousand questions for them about ministry and the way we see God leading us. We were encouraged by the many ways God is using them in Riga, Latvia. Oh, last but certainly not least, they speak English in Scotland. I can appreciate that!
 Monument in the Grassmarket
Covenanter Monument in Greyfriar's Kirkyard

There is lots of great information on the Spiritual History of the Royal Mile at the following web site.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mission to the World in Europe

Statue of John Knox

We attended a conference in Scotland last month at which most of the MTW teams in Europe were represented. It was very encouraging to hear about the different ways God is working in such varied cultures as Greece, Bulgaria, Latvia, Scotland, and Germany. Although these cultures are widely separated by language, history, and tradition, they share much in common spiritually. They are all places in which Christianity has been more prominent at some period in the past. Today, only a very small minority in each of these countries has any interest in Christ and his kingdom. Like the Czech Republic, several countries where MTW is working today were dramatically affected by National Socialism and Communism. During the long period of moral scorched-earth policies in the 20th century, the Eastern European conscience was purged of gospel ideas and is still largely sterile today. Freedom has returned, but to an empty house.

The messages at the conference were delivered by Neil Macmillan, mission development officer for the Free Church of Scotland. Neil spoke about rebuilding the temple from the book of Haggai and applied that to rebuilding the church and our personal lives. Although the church in Europe is a faint shadow of what it was in former times, it is nonetheless God’s church and we must give careful attention to it. Just as God was very interested in the smaller, less-glorious temple that was being built in Haggai’s day, he is very interested in the struggling European church that is emerging from the ashes of physical and spiritual warfare in this part of the world.