Friday, July 31, 2015

In Search of Coffee

Nearly twelve hours have passed and this is still giving me the giggles.

Random pony, tied up to a garbage can, in a section of Ostrava this afternoon...this is what has me giggling.

And not just one pony, but two!

I honestly have no idea whatsoever as to the reason for their presence at an outdoor shopping area Claire and I visited today. But it sure did tickle some funny bone of mine seeing them!

We were actually in search of a coffee shop I'd heard about from some of our teammates. GPS took me to a back parking lot that honestly looked quite un-promising. And even a stop into a drugstore to ask about it left us no closer to finding it.

But we persevered and finally found it upstairs in a very quiet section of the shopping mall.

I first learned of Laura Coffee this winter while at the train station in Ostrava where they have an outdoor cart. But today Claire and I got to experience the actual cafe and roasting center!

While the entrance was cute, the view out of the window left a little to be desired.

But the atmosphere inside was charming, and the coffee (a Chemex brew!) was delightful!

It's hard to imagine that the cutest coffee shop I now know of in Ostrava is located in such a crazy area of town! I would never have expected it to be here, nor to be so darling. But there it is. I'm sure I'll be back.

Claire and I enjoyed a sweet hour together and left feeling filled up with a good memory of fun conversation and yummy coffee from this part of Ostrava!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Evening Drive

A few weeks ago Dave and I took an evening drive up into the mountains. As we drove I had a realization: If you blindfolded me, dropped me in by helicopter and walked me down into this area, I'd know exactly where I was!

These iconic images of the Beskydy Mountains (where we live) are happily seared into my memory. Things like those tall fir trees, with Czech cottages nestled below.

And red roofs, window boxes full of red geraniums, and hand-crafted gates where no two are alike.

Those doors, that railing, the white lattice and the unpainted plaster on the house - these are images that capture this area.

It's also winding driveways up to cottages, and grass growing down the middle of said driveways. Even the red and white striped road sign is iconic to me!

The wooden siding and white windows, the barn next door with stacks of wood nearby, and even the telephone lines feel so familiar and comforting to me.

As are the small personal "chaty" (cottages) scattered across the hillside.

And last, but not least, the garden paraphernalia that perhaps is not iconic to the Beskydy's, but certainly present! It never ceases to make me giggle a little when I see one of those silly gnomes peeking out from somewhere!

These are not touristy places, or anything really special. But it's comforting signs of "home" to me.

I wonder what you would show me about where YOU live if you were writing this blog post!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Well Done Susan!

Today, on the beautiful square of Cieszyn, Poland, I said goodbye to a very dear friend.

Susan Ellis has served with us in Josiah Venture for twenty years, giving her life and sharing the Gospel with young people in Poland.

An extraordinary discipler of women, a gifted leader, an invaluable team player, a passionate woman of God...Susan faithfully, diligently and joyfully made an incredible impact on the country of Poland for the sake of Christ throughout her years of service.

Every goodbye is hard, but this one is even harder due to the fact that we've been sharing life for more than just her twenty years in JV. We've actually been friends for thirty years.

Recognize those faces? Susan, Laura (Larrabee) Hash and I attended Multnomah School of the Bible together as single women. You can probably tell by our hairstyles that this was in the mid 80's!

We stayed in touch over the next several years, seeing her here and there while she lived in California and we lived in Germany.

In 1992 she visited us in Wheaton and we shared our dream and vision to move somewhere into Central and Eastern Europe and begin working with young people to share the Gospel, disciple and train leaders. God was stirring something in her heart at the time and it would be just months later when he began to reveal his plan for her life.

The following year she made the decision to join JV, a very small team at the time (just three couples, two living in Czech, one living in Poland) and began the process of raising support.

While in Chicago for missionary training in January '95, she celebrated Caleb's 2nd birthday with us as we were back in the States to update our supporting churches on the early days of Josiah Venture.

Eight months later, in August 1995, she arrived in Poland and moved to Krakow to begin serving with us. She was there to celebrate another birthday, Claire's first, at Pizza Hut there!

During the next twenty years, Susan moved throughout Poland to numerous cities, wherever the need was, and faithfully served in too many way to even recount.  She also survived two separate rounds of cancer which she battled in the States, then returned to Poland as soon as she was able. Knowing God had still called her there, cancer didn't stop her from coming back!

Susan is persistent, committed, loyal, dedicated, sacrificial and oh so much fun to be around! We're infinitely thankful for the Lord's miraculous saving of her life, and that we had the privilege of living life with her these past twenty years.

But the time has now come to send her on a new missionary journey, this time back to the U.S..

I say it this way because wherever Susan is, she is engaged in living out her faith in a most vibrant way. So although she won't be serving in Poland with JV, she will STILL be serving the Lord! It's just the way Susan lives her life and I deeply admire her and love her for that.

"Susan, you are an amazing servant of God who has laid down her life for the sake of the Gospel time and time again through the years. The fruit of your labor is so abundant, and I can only imagine how many lives are different and transformed because of you and your service in Poland. Thank you and BLESS YOU for the thousands of ways you've touched people's lives, including mine, these past twenty years. Oh how we'll all miss you. But this isn't the end! We're all still on our missionary journey and I fully expect our paths to cross many times again over the next thirty years! LOVE YOU SO MUCH and praying for the next leg of your journey. Well done good and faithful servant!"

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On the Vltava

After spending time with the Grace church team from Chicago yesterday, we made our way back across the Charles Bridge to meet up with another team here from Alaska, who also served at an English camp last week.

We met that team here, on the Maria Croon City Sightseeing boat where they were taking a dinner cruise on the Vltava for their last night in country.

Few know the story of Dave's first evangelism outreach that fueled his desire and calling to work with youth.

It happened on an American military base in Hanau, Germany when he was just 18 years old, at the invite and encouragement of this woman, Pat Pennell (who was here for her seventh year of English camps with her husband, the pastor of the church in Alaska, and the team that accompanied them).

At that time she was a single missionary with Cadence International, the organization Dave's dad helped found many years earlier.

When Dave was 18, his dad accepted the position of European field director and moved his family to Germany. Thinking it would be a great adventure and opportunity, Dave delayed his start in college and moved with them to spend a year there. That proved to be a pivotal point in his life that eventually led to the beginning of Malachi Ministries which he led for seven years, and the beginning of Josiah Venture which began twenty two years ago.

While discipling a group of high schoolers that year (with Dave only a year or two older than them!) it was Pat who made it possible for him to bring them to Hanau to lead his first evangelistic outreach event.

As we traveled down the Vltava River enjoying a beautiful summer evening together, we reminisced over those early days of ministry and how significant they were to what God's big plan and will was for Dave's life. 

With a boatload of 60 people including their team, some JV interns, as well as students and parents from the camp they'd just come from, Dave got to tell the JV story going all the way back to that week of ministry in Hanau at Pat's invitation, and how that set the course for JV's ministry today.

It truly could not have been a more beautiful evening, giving God glory for what HE has done over the past thirty five years since that first outreach event.

Who would've ever known it would lead us to the Czech Republic years later, and to thousands of young people hearing the Gospel in these Central and Eastern European countries.

It reminds me that we never know what a word spoken here or there can mean in the big scheme of life. I'm sure Pat had no idea what her encouragement to Dave would bring about many years later.

But how special it was to travel on a boat down the river in the country we've lived in for twenty two years, with the woman who gave Dave that invitation to share the Gospel all those years ago. And who has now come here to serve with JV for so many years doing the same thing that she made possible for him years ago!

We all gave glory to God that evening, to our mighty, powerful and creative God who could set all that in motion to accomplish his will!

"Bless you Pat for following the Lord's leading years ago! And thank you for yours and Grady's years of investment here in the Czech Republic and your support and encouragement in our lives!"

Monday, July 27, 2015

Grace Team in Prague

Enjoying and enduring the ever changing summer weather in Prague, we met up with a dear team of people today from our church in the Chicago area, Grace Church of DuPage.

They came to serve at a JV English camp last week, and are now back in Prague for debrief with the other American teams who also served around the country.

As the sun went in and out, we walked the city while Dave them a spiritual heritage tour of the city.

Such as, explaining the meaning and significance of Jan Hus' life as an early reformer of the church back in the mid 1400's.

As we headed across the Charles Bridge towards the castle, the skies began to darken and big raindrops pelted us as we crossed. But it doesn't matter what the weather is, that view is still spectacular!

And ten minutes later, with the sun reappearing over in Mala Strana at St. Nicholas church, Dave gave his "architecture speaks" talk before going inside to see what he meant.

It's a heavily gilded church, with huge statues of church leaders and only a tiny Jesus up front - tells something about the values and priorities when the church was built back in the mid-1700's.

My long time friend, Wendy, served on the team with her two children, and it was positively delightful to hear her perspective on spending a week with Czech young people - she loved it!

Her husband serves on our JV board - we're so thankful for both of them!

The skies let loose with a torrential downpour while up at the castle, but it didn't stop us from finishing up Dave's tour and enjoying the time together!

We are so incredibly thankful for the churches from the US, Canada and Ireland that partner with us each year for summer camps across Central and Eastern Europe, including our own dear church!

"Love you and thank you Grace Church of DuPage team!" 

Perfect Sunday Morning

Yesterday, a beautiful Sunday in Frydlant, was one of those magical days where you feel the presence of God in creation and in his people.

We held our church service outdoors, in the beauty of our Beskydy Mountains.

With power from a generator, sitting under the shadow of our local reservoir, we worshipped with our regular church family, with the team from Lancaster, PA who have been here for English camp this past week, and with guests who came for a special event during the service.

Dave preached on Psalm 23, leading us through it in a way I'd never heard before! Sharing stories from his grandfather's farm days raising sheep, he spoke so winsomely about how we can trust the good Shepherd when we know him.

This dear woman has known the Good Shepherd for many, many years...93 to be exact! Her daughter and son-in-law brought her to the service where she watched from the car.

Her daughter asked me to take the picture and I'm so glad I did! Isn't she lovely?!

As we sat outside, the morning sunshine was brilliant, making it necessary for these 'soon-to-deliver' friends to use a little protection from its potency!

The mommy with the polka dot umbrella delivered her baby 15 hours later!

The main reason for our service being outside was the baptism of these five dear young believers who were making their public declaration of faith for all to hear, including many of their family members who don't yet know the Lord.

After Dave finished preaching, we all made our way down to the river where our pastor led the baptism part of service for the girls.

With 130 people there, some watched from the bridge, while others were down at the water's edge.

One of the girls from the American team played her ukelele and sang a dedication song for the girls that was absolutely precious, and brought such a wonderful atmosphere to the service.

Soon, each one made her way into the water, accompanied by our pastor and by a special person of their choosing.

This is one of the elements of our baptismal services that I love the most! Each person brings with them someone who has made an impact on them spiritually to be with them as they go down into the water.

Despite some pretty cold water, there was such joy as each one went into the water and came back out, making their public declaration of love for Jesus.

Afterward we came back up for a wonderful barbecue, made possible by a whole lot of servant hearted people in our church.

And organized by this guy, one of the elders in our church!

"Thanks Petr for making all of that possible!!"

Her first time back at our church since Christmas, Claire had a lot of sweet reunions with friends of all ages.

Including a teacher of hers from elementary school in Frydlant! This dear woman is the one who brought her mother to the service!

Though she attends a different church, she came because she'd heard that three of her former elementary school students were being baptized! No doubt she prayed for some of them during her many years as a teacher. I love that she saw the fruit of those prayers yesterday!

A few other little friends of Claire were all too happy to take some pictures with her for me!

The ever amusing and delightful Stephens' twins!

All too soon our church day in the mountains ended, but with the sweetest of memories.

I'm so proud of our little Frydlant church and how well it reaches out with the Gospel, loves on all who come, and is producing the sweetest of fruit in the lives of many.

This is what church is all about.