Saturday, May 26, 2007

Prague (BBB Part Eight)

For about two years after I received my calling into international mission service, I kept my eyes open for a short-term trip that I could join with, so that I could get a small taste of what missionary service would be like. Nothing really seemed right until early 1995, when I learned about a local pastor who had been taking a group of people to the Czech Republic each year since the fall of communism. He was planning to take another group in May of that year, and he was looking for more people to go with the group. I prayed about this and talked to Jennifer, and soon I was convinced that going on the trip was the right thing to do. However, funding was a problem, since the trip was going to cost somewhere around $1500, and we had nowhere near that much money to spare. Thankfully, the missions committee at the church where Jennifer and I attended agreed to fund the trip in full—yet another answered prayer!

While in the Czech Republic, my group and I traveled around with a local Czech Baptist pastor, speaking about our faith in local churches, retirement homes, and even in several public school classrooms (can you imagine that?). Most of the people to whom we spoke were young and had lived their entire lives under a Communist regime which greatly persecuted all religious traditions. Many people in our audience were very interested in what we had to say. I was greatly impacted by the spiritual interest of the young people that we spoke to, as well as by the warm hospitality and friendliness of the Czech people.

During the trip, I met a Southern Baptist missionary who was the pastor of an English-language International Baptist Church in Prague, the capital city. As I told him about my desire to serve as a missionary in Eastern Europe, he became excited. He said, “I have been looking for someone to come here and help me try to reach the large international student population for quite some time. Would you like to come help me?” I told him I would think and pray about it, and that I still had a year of seminary to go. After thinking, praying, and discussing it for a couple of months, Jennifer and I decided that we would accept. When we called the missionary in Prague and told him, he was thrilled. He immediately wrote a job request for us and sent it to the central office of the mission board.

A year later, I graduated from seminary, and about six weeks after that, we were on a plane to Prague. Unfortunately (or so it seemed at the time), the missionary who invited us to Prague decided to resign due to health problems and to return to the U. S. He was only in Prague for about ten days after we arrived, barely enough time to get us oriented. About two weeks after our sponsors left, another missionary family came to take their place. They were veteran missionaries who had already served in two other countries, one for over ten years. They were a great help to us, but of course, they had no more knowledge of Prague or its international student population than we did. So, instead of having someone tell us what to do and how to do it, we were going to have to figure out how to do our assignment from scratch.

Our time in Prague was very difficult for all of us. Not only did we have to learn a new language and culture, but just doing what we had to do to live was a daily struggle. We had no car, and so we had to walk or take public transport (which is excellent in Prague) everywhere we went. We had to go to the grocery store every day, buying only what we could carry home. We lived in a small, one bedroom apartment. Audrey, who was five at the time, did not even have her own room--she had to sleep on a sleeper sofa in the living room! We had no phone line for the first month or so, and after we did get one, it only worked about half the time.

In addition to all this, we struggled with the climate. The summers were nice and mild, but the winters were brutal! During the winter, the temperature routinely dropped below zero. One morning, it was minus 23 degrees Celsius. We had double windows, with a space in between, where we kept our milk, so as to save space in our tiny refrigerator. One day, we pulled the milk out, and it was frozen, despite the fact that it was technically INSIDE our apartment! Also, the amount of daylight in the winter was depressingly small. At the peak of winter, the sun rose at about 8:30 and set at about 3:30. Needless to say, we had never experienced life like this before.

But the hardest thing of all, at least for me, was not having any clue at all how to do my job. I had gone from being a highly competent teacher and church planter to a total incompetent. Although I did undertake a few productive ministry tasks—teaching Sunday School, helping lead worship and preaching occasionally at our church, and leading a home Bible study for adults, I was plagued by the fact that I was not really doing what I had been brought to Prague to do. After several months of research and talking with other ministry groups in Prague, I finally did find a dorm full of international students, and I began planning outreach events for them. Still, our frustration over our lack of effectiveness made us very open to consider alternative service opportunities in other parts of the world. When one such opportunity finally did come, we were ready…

3 comments:

Clint said...

Your story is a blessing to me. I ended up in Estonia and can understand everything to which you refer.

Wow, our stories are very similar.

Thanks, Fr James

Fr. James Early said...

Clint,

I would love to get in touch with you and get to know you. If you wouldn't mind, please email me. My address should be on the top of my home page. May the Lord bless you.

megan said...

I know we aren't even close to the end of the story, and I am thinking "Wow! This is insane!" I am amazed with all that you and Jennifer went through together!