Saturday, July 20, 2013

Czech Republic Team Update #2

Update from Justin Schroeder for the Czech Team:

I honestly don't know how to even put this week into words. I'm absolutely overwhelmed at what God has done here. So I'll try to break it down a bit.

-Camp starts--always a bit of awkwardness, as is the usual, but I agree with Annie who said "it was the most un-awkward Awkward Day I've ever had." The team instantly began meshing with the students, making them feel at home, and getting to know each other real quick. It's always a puzzle as to how to divide students into class (you want a good balance--everyone being assigned to an appropriate level but also to a proper proportion of team member/students),  but after testing the English, the classes seemed to just divide themselves perfectly!

-Camp continues--English classes run smoothly, the Americans have come well-prepared and are KILLING IT with their lessons! Students are learning, and over the course of the week have become more open, comfortable, and downright crazy enough to participate in our American shenanigans, and each day I hear more and more laughter echoing through this campsite in the morning. Good stuff.

-Discussion groups-- They are never easy at first, but each class has had moments of students opening up, asking questions about Jesus, and realizing things they never knew before. The classes have become like families, and each has its own environment of trust and security, and this opens many doors for healthy discussions about Christ! This week we've talked about Peter-- his relationship with Jesus has been SO  interesting-- the way he wrestles with faith, disappointment, friendship, rejection, betrayal, forgiveness, restoration. It's so human. It has enabled a way to paint perfectly a picture of God's grace and how the Gospel has the power to change lives.

And it does.

I wrote a couple days ago saying that yesterday was Gospel day. I tell ya, it started as a frenzy... so much going on beginning right at 7am. Lots of things to set up, general camp-ness to run (including a sushi workshop, aw yeah!), meetings and practices and this, that, everything. But when we got to evening program, everything just ran so smoothly! The campers were engaged, the Gospel message was preached uninterrupted, and when we did the labyrinth- students spent longer in there than I've ever seen before! Many came out crying or wanting to talk to someone.. We had a tea room set up and team members (Czech and American) sat, talked, and prayed with many of the students. Lots had questions, many wanted to know more about this God and how they could have a relationship, and others who previously were unsure where they stood wanted to just sell all out for Christ.

We don't do altar calls here. I don't know if anyone was saved last night. To be honest, I think I've only been to two or three camps (of 8) where someone made the decision AT camp. But isn't that cool in a way? We don't go for that emotional, "camp high" vibe. We're talking to a culture that really contemplates things, that really takes spirituality seriously, and who want to truly choose for themselves if they want to follow Him--and this choice really is life or death for them. And to tell the truth, the results of such a mindset are so much more deep, more evident, and more meaningful than a lot of what we see in the States. I think we as Americans have something to learn from them.
 Much of the fruit will come after camp, maybe December, may March, maybe in 2017. But I tell you, it happens. Last night was an incredible start for so many, and amazing progress for others. I've yet to hear from many of the conversations that were had, but I already heard that several students prayed for the very first time, cried out to God asking Him to show Himself to them. (I was just informed several students committed to start reading the Bible, some describing a total life change, and much more) I am 100% confident that much Kingdom change for the Czech Republic is going to come from this week alone, praise God for that!!

So, long story short: Gospel night = huge success. So, much to be praising God for, and praying that the seeds that were planted will bear much fruit in the coming years!

And it doesn't stop here! We've yet one more night, one last discussion group with students, and then FOLLOW UP! We get to go back to their town, where we work to get everyone plugged into this local church and youth group, and the camp will continue all year long.

This hasn't all been one cake walk. We're tired. Very tired. Sam got sick for a bit but champed through it like a.. well like a champ! There are days where literally nothing goes the way we had planned it that morning, but  one of the first rule of missions: Be adaptable. If you get upset when things don't go the way YOU planned, well you're in the wrong business--God has His own plans and it's by this faith that we operate! And when the curve balls come our way, the team, and I mean the WHOLE team, has handled them with such grace and flexibility that the camp has been able to run so smoothly.

Speaking of camp running smoothly, I can't tell you all enough how thankful I am for the team we have. I honestly can say I've never seen a better crew of Americans out here. I'm dead serious about that. I'm not the only one either, the Czechs have been blown away, and a couple of our JV bosses came to visit yesterday and said the same. The way they're willing to do anything necessary, the way they reach out to students and build relationships even when they're so tired... the way they go with the flow and bring the energy and the fun that supercharges this camp, or just the boldness to share Christ in any circumstance... it's crazy! Exceeding expectations of all sorts. And the Czechs, oh the Czechs, the same can be said for them too! Such a solid group of young adults stepping up in faith to lead. Amongst the leaders, we've done many camps before, and we agree this one has been one of, if not the most, solid camps we ever saw.

Personal note: who would've thunk it; speaking at night has been so much fun!! I had no idea!! What was I so scared about?? So yeah, thank the Lord that actually turned out pretty well. It was seriously a blast, and most of that was because my translator Paja (pronounced Pie-uh.. umm.. yeah phonetics make that look silly..)  was so awesome. After the second night, we both were so surprised at how much joy speaking together gave us! Thank you all for your prayers for that!

Please be praying for the team as we move on to follow up- for the last-chance conversations, for those students who won't be at follow up, and for connections to be made between the Americans and their host families. Some will be going to the homes of students, others to the Czech team, and a few of us will stay with the leaders. Pray for a fruitful time as we minister to these guys from right where they live! It's gonna be awesoooommmme!!!!!

Please continue to pray for health and safety of the team. Camp may be over, but there is much craziness yet to come.

So, English Camp 2013: success. Beyond words.

Thank you all for taking part in this ministry through your prayers-- and keep them up, we're not done yet!

update: between the time I started this email (this morning), and the time I completed it (tonight), one student has decided to give her life to Christ. Whoa!

Pension pod Vlekem, our amazing camp location! Pray for the owner, Ivo. He's been so awesome to us, and has even been listening in on the talks at night
Craft time!

Tea time...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Prayer for "Gospel Night" and Czech Mission Team

Here is a prayer request/update from the Czech Republic Mission Team:

I plan to send a nice big update tomorrow, full of adventures and stories and general camp greatness, but due to time zones and schedules and who knows what else, I wanted to ask you all to start praying for tomorrow. I know you're all only digesting lunch, but at this very moment most groups are still in discussion, and then we're off to bed. 

Nay, we're off to hide in a dark forest, and then off to bed.

Anyways, tomorrow is a big day. This whole week we've been talking about Jesus and Peter, laying a foundation for presenting the Gospel, and tomorrow is what this all builds up to--Gospel night. The talk will be where the Gospel is presented in full, but instead of "alter call" type stuff, the students go through a "labyrinth", basically a station-by-station breakdown on the things learned this week, allowing for them to process and internalize on their own (this is a much better approach with the Czech culture). 

Anyways, start praying now, if you would. Many students are asking questions! Last night, I talked for a couple hours with the hotel owner who has been listening in on the night talks. Others are hearing these things for the very first time. All these students (or hotel staff) need prayer. Tomorrow is just a big day in general--lots going on (including the big setup of this labyrinth), so that's why I write to you all now. 

God has been SO good to us this week, and I'm so so excited to tell you more! For now, I must go hide in a forest. You know how camp goes.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Czech Mission Team Update #1

Getting over jet lag together...
 Hello Family and Friends!!!

In just a few hours, we'll be meeting our English Camp students! Ahhh!!! The past several days have been absolutely crazy and awesome, and as we are already nonstop hard at work, I'll need to keep this brief. The Lord has already demonstrated His power and love to us in so many ways, I could go on and on and on and on and on and on.   BUT if I make a habit of details, the camp updates will be novels, and ain't nobody got time for that. Just know that He has carried us so wonderfully, and continue to pray for His hand over us.

First of all, we're all safe! The journey was long and exhausting, but we didn't miss any connections (and the metal in Arthur's leg didn't land us in interrogation rooms--Huzzah!!) This bunch are natural world travelers I tell you!

With 11 people traveling across the world, it seems near impossible that the entire operation can go off without a hitch. WELL, you should all be pleased to hear that only one bag..... made it.

Don't you fret now, the other 10 of us were just fine surviving the 24+ hours without our bags. The team was prepared with necessary carry-on essentials, and it's not like deodorant is a staple in Europe anyways. Our bags all arrived safely to our facility the next night and there was hardly a complaint or panic the entire wait!

So we landed in Prague and met up with the rest of our team! Annie and Jessica from Pennsylvania, and Rachel from Peoria, IL. For the first time, the 14 of us were all together! I had no idea the team could look this massive. It rocks.

We also met our Czech leadership from the Prague church (in case you didn't hear, we're working directly with Prague, and in case you didn't know, that's awesome.) They are some of the nicest, most genuine, organized, and passionate people I've had the grace of working with. For all of us, this is our first times in these roles, so we're enjoying working and learning together.

We stayed in the castle on the far left!
American team training took place in this wonderful location called Brejlov. This was three days for all the Americans doing camps in Bohemia (that's Western Czech, folks. About 150 Americans just for this half of the country!) to have a concentrated time of preparation- spiritually, culturally, English-lesson-teaching-y, sharing the Gospel, our stories, and everything else in between--like getting over jet lag, growing as a team, and spending time in peace to connect with God and refocus our hearts after the chaos of travel.. and before more chaos of camp. It was also a time where we could hear from the Czechs--the mostly-young men and women who are the current and future spiritual leaders of this nation. To step out in leadership is not a common thing here, but it's happening more rapidly than ever, and JV seeks to invest in the lives of these individuals, realizing there's only so much the Americans can do (after all, how much is two weeks compared to an entire year?)

On a personal note, training was a such a precious time to reconnect with dear friends from all over the globe--JV missionaries, Czechs from past camps, former interns, the whole package. It brings such joy to my heart to see these people I love, to be back in a place I cherish so deeply.. and the best part is that for the first time like, ever, my friends came with me and I get to show all of it to them!! They haven't even seen the good stuff yet, and already God's movement in Eastern Europe is making itself so evident and penetrating the hearts of the Americans and Czechs alike. 

Preparing for camp with Czech leaders
Training was good stuff. Great stuff. A fantastic time to hang out and plan camp with our Czech leaders, to explore the magical forests (they filmed the Narnia forest scenes here, so that was no hyperbole), to climb castle ruins and old towers, and to be trained in all the little ins and outs that will ultimately make the sharing of the Gospel more effective in this culture.

We traveled by bus to our camp facility-- it is PRIME! Great location, great setup, and, wait for it-- the most friendly and helpful owners/hosts I've ever worked with. If you know anything about dealing with Czech hotel management and things like this, you know that even "somewhat nice" is just.. oh man.. just a huge blessing.

We've been setting the place up, preparing lessons, praying over every classroom, bedroom, outside room (use your imagination), everything and anything as we get ready. 

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep praying for us! Camp is about to start--this is the reason we're here!

-Health and safety. Such a cliche thing to say, I know. Don't care. 
We need prayer on this. We're about to be stretched out thinner than ever, but require the strength not only to survive each day, but to thrive in ministry and relationships with these students. 

-Protection. This is a safe place (calm down mothers), but spiritually it is dark battleground. This is the time where attack will come relentlessly.

-Camp! It's about to start! Pray that we will connect fast with the students-- here we have a team who has prepared for a long time, but this still doesn't stop the nerves-- teaching English, discussion groups, sports.. all of it with a different culture makes this an entirely new experience. Pray everything runs smoothly, that this camp will be one of the best weeks of these students' lives and that God will use it to bring many to Him.

Everyone's having a blast. On the next update, I'll likely have some more personal requests from the individual members. For myself, this is the first year in this role (no intern help this time!) All logistic things are going well, but I'm still nervous as heck for evening program.. lots of moving parts to this, and hiccups tend to serve as big distractions. I've never done the talks before this year, and tonight will be the first go. They're all written out, so that's nice, but please pray that these talks will be communicated clearly and effectively, for my translator, Paja, that she will also communicate these truths and that the students will listen. For me, this is where I feel most anxious.

Rachel and Annie are our only English Camp veterans on the team. They, as well as some key JV people say (and I agree) how impressed they are with this team. Honestly, these guys are one of the most well-oiled American machines I've seen out here. All are working so hard, and you would think they've done a million of these camps before! It's incredible! So please pray that this would continue, because we know it's by His grace that this team has even made it this far!

We are pumped!

Justin for the Team