Monday 29 February 2016

Burning Bulb

I have less than thirty hours at home and a long list - today so far I have unpacked, done laundry, and repacked, gathered my tax paperwork for the accounted, done my February ministry expenses, finished some work tasks and generally got my life in order in the midst of these three crazy weeks.

So I'm just spending a couple of minutes but I wanted to capture what a joy and privilege it was to be at Burning Bulb with 160 youth leaders in Estonia. Estonia is the coolest country I know and it was incredible to get to know more Estonians, and see glimpses of what God is doing in that nation. 

One of the most exciting things was seeing 17 year olds who are leading the youth ministries of their churches. To hear about the things God is doing in them now - can you imagine what He will be doing in and through them a decade from now? And how He will use them to change this nation?

It was an incredible weekend and worth the less than 30 hour turn around before this next adventure!

Friday 26 February 2016

A few days in Riga, a night in Tallinn and now Burning Bulb!

It was so good to spend a few days in Riga with Katka! We both were working throughout the week but we were also able to take time to go and walk along the beach! It was a little strange to walk on a beach that had snow! But it is the Baltic Sea, and it was very cold. It was a beautiful day! 

On Thursday I left Riga to travel to Tallinn. The bus ride is over four hours long but it was so good to read. When I arrived Shelby and I were reunited at the little flat we were staying in. We found a place on airbnb and, because Casey was there too, it worked out cheaper than any hotel and it was in a great location! 

We spent some time wondering around Tallinn before Casey arrived from flying in from Czech. We then went in search of dinner and found a little British-esque gastropub that served a great burger! And after dinner it was really fun to hang out and watch a movie. 

Today started with a great breakfast (oh the perks of staying in a little flat and cooking). We then walked to a bus stop where a co-worker picked us up in a white van, with blacked out windows and that set the tone for our adventure..

We then went to an underground storage area that looked a little like we might be picking up guns... in reality it was just a lot of sound and tech equipment.

After a snowy drive we arrived in the place where the conference is! So set up began - including putting up a lot of curtains to create a good stage space.

After all the set up that we could help with was finished some of us had some time - which was great to settle into our rooms and catch up with people. We then had a team meeting and it was just so exciting to pray together and talk through some of the big things of this weekend.

Tonight conference began - there are around 150 of us here this weekend. We had dinner and our first main session. Estonians are probably some of the coolest people on earth and it was a joy to experience them worshipping God in their beautiful, beautiful language.

The main sessions this weekend are on making bold moves for God and how living our faith out boldly would change our faith, our lives, and the lives of those around us. We have translation for the main talks so it was good to hear Innar share tonight.

Tomorrow is a full day - two main sessions, plus seminar time. Please pray for those serving in the main sessions (in the many ways - from the main speakers, to the tech people, translators and worship leaders) and the seminar speakers you can see below!

I'm so excited to learn what God has for us this weekend!

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Day 3 of the Baltic Academy!

The last day of the Academy began with the last main session where we got really practical and talked about personal productivity and methods and tools we can use to get things done, and get the right things done!

After that we had another seminar slot. It's a blurry photo but it was on working with volunteers - realities and myths around volunteers, how to recruit people to serve in our ministries, and how to keep them there! It was really good to get really practical in this area. 

I've mentioned before that the attendees at the conference were younger than we were expecting. This is partly because most people leave to Riga to continue education once they finish high school. This means it is the sixteen year olds who are leading their church's youth ministries! So I also talked about how to recruit older people to your ministry, and the beautiful things that can come from that.

One of the reasons we took the Academy "on the road" was so we could get really specific and talk about local contexts. So throughout the conference teams were given time together and on the last day they were asked to present their vision and goals for their local ministries. Oh, it was exciting to hear these people share their hearts. And exciting to pray and think about what God will do through these faithful people.

Being up here was a great excuse to meet with the Latvia camp team and we did a lot of laughing! But we also talked through a lot, answered questions, and shared dreams. I like these people a lot! 

After the meeting Shelby and I were staying with Katka, who moved a few months ago from serving with JV in Czech to serving with JV in Latvia. Katka showed us around her city and it is a beautiful one!

I loved this door - do you notice the inscription above the door?

It's been pretty cold up here! The last time I was in Riga it was July and I was up here visiting camps (and taking my car to the mechanic!). Katka was actually with me and I remember sitting here, by the river, as we talked for the first time about what if God was leading her here. Such a fun memory! Although I cannot imagine sitting here as I look at this photo! 

Saturday 20 February 2016

Day Two of the Baltic Academy!

Today was our first and only full day altogether at the Academy conference and it was a lot of fun! Our morning began with a main session - including video clips matching the theme, a game that involved a relay where teams put on a poncho, mittens and a shower cap, and ran to drink their can of coke, worship, a devotion, and a main talk on goal setting. 

We also had two workshop slots today. In the first slot I led a workshop on camp follow up and explained and released a tool I've created that will hopefully help youth groups track the students who come to camp, and help them as they plan to continue to connect with those students and challenge them to follow Christ.

Teams also had time together to discuss what they've been learning this weekend - because we don't want them to just hear this teaching but to really apply it to their lives and ministries. So they were discussing their own personal goals and also their ministries and what goals they believe God is asking them to make.

And, because we believe in celebrating these wonderful youth leaders and their faithfulness, tonight we sent people out in their teams to have dinner together in Riga. Those of us who had travelled up from Czech together went out together to a restaurant one of our co-workers recommended called The Angry Dog.

The food was good, the company amazing, and the highlight was when we asked if Shelby, who is an incredible pianist, could play the piano in the place. The waitress took a little convincing but even she admitted one or two songs in that she is a great musician. Such a fun memory!

We all met back at the hotel/conference centre for dessert and spent a lot of time chatting and laughing - especially once we started talking about silly laws in all the countries we're attached to (this is what happens when you have a Scot, an American, two Czechs, two Latvians, and a Northern Irish at the table). 

It has been so good to be here for this conference. It has been such a delight to sit down with people over meals or dessert or coffee and chat and hear their stories, the stories of this country, the stories of what God has done and is doing in this place, and their dreams of what He will do here.

We finish up tomorrow at lunch time and I'm excited to see what the morning will hold! 

Friday 19 February 2016

The Baltic Academy - Day One!

Tonight the JV Baltic Academy began! We've got almost forty leaders from Latvia and Estonia with us this weekend in Riga. Tonight we had registration, dinner and our first main session!

And, because we are youth ministry people, we, of course, had some fun games and videos that all keep reinforcing our theme of passing it on.

We're spending our main sessions learning about how to lead ourselves - in creating a life plan, setting goals, and personal productivity. We want to be people who love God, love others and produce good fruit, and we want to be successful at what God has called each of us to.

We also have six workshops throughout the weekend - on becoming unstuck, camp follow-up, creating and delivering a good talk, the i-generation, situational leadership, and working with volunteers. 

One thing that has surprised us is how young a lot of these leaders are! As we met people and got to know them tonight we discovered that a lot of them are sixteen to nineteen years old - and some even younger.

In these places youth ministry is often done by young people. In some of our countries there really is only one or two places where you can continue education so people often leave their home towns to go to university. Or youth ministry can be seen as something that single people do, and once you get married you stop going. 

So we have a young crowd! It means that some of us are having to alter our talks slightly, and come up with new illustrations. But, overall, it is so exciting to think about the impact these young people will have for Jesus in their communities! And that we get to come alongside them, provide training and encourage them in their calling!

Please pray for us as we continue tomorrow! 

Thursday 18 February 2016

Travel day to the Baltics!

For those of you who are curious and would like glimpses into a travel day...  

This morning started early for the five of us! We left Český Těšín at 5.30am to drive to Kraków airport to travel to Riga! 

This weekend is the JV Leadership Academy in the Baltics. Instead of gathering everyone in one place like we've done the last two years we've taken the conference on the road and are doing it in a few places. A few weekends ago it was in Ukraine and in April it'll be Slovenia's turn. 

Because Shelby and I are staying up in the Baltics this week to be at a conference in Estonia next weekend we were on different flights from the other three. Our timing is a lot tighter on the other side so it made the most sense. 

We had a fifty minute flight from Kraków to Warsaw, with enough of a layover to eat lunch, and grab a great juice drink and a less great chai latte. Then we had a second flight into Tallinn that was rather bumpy but included a nap. 

We were greeted in Tallinn by zero degree temperatures and ice but we got to the bus station for a little more hanging around before our bus. 

And we've now been on this bus for four hours. Amazingly each seat has a little tv screen with forty movies available! The photo is dark and blurry but it's of the older man in front watching Despicable Me!

It's just after 11pm and we'll soon be arriving in Riga where a co-worker is picking us up to take us to the hotel. The conference starts tomorrow! So we're hoping for a good night's sleep, especially as a couple of us are battling colds. 

It's been a long day of travelling but I'm super excited to be up here, to be with our teams, and excited to see what God does! 

Tuesday 9 February 2016

King Josiah and a normal day

King Josiah from Josiah Venture on Vimeo.

"God is changing lives and He's changing countries. It's happening now!"

Today has been a fun day so far - it's Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day in the UK and this is a celebration I've brought with me to the JV offices in the Czech Republic. My Czech and American co-workers do now trust me that lemon and sugar are good pancake toppings. 

And it's been a full day - with meetings, conversations about interns, planning for the Academy conference in Latvia next week, thinking about the talks I need to write for that, planning English curriculum for camps this year, Czech language learning, and emails bouncing back and forth. 

Also today our wonderful communications team made our new website live! So you should go and check that out. And with the beautiful new website the above video was released too! 

In the midst of lists of tasks and lots of different preparations it was a good and joyful reminder of why we're here and doing all the above - so that more young people will hear about the God who loves them and who invites them to follow Him with all they have. 

Monday 1 February 2016

2015: A Year in Review

I thought that before 2016 ends I should probably review 2015! It was an incredible year.

January started by flying back to Czech after being in NI for Christmas. It also saw a fun day with friends in Vienna and my team hosting the Academy conference for the second time for over 200 leaders from our ministries. February was a quieter month with my only time away from home being for our church’s youth weekend. In March our team had our annual planning retreat, and I was in Slovakia for a day of their national youth work conference, and Krakow for a project day and then a women’s retreat.

In April Rose came to visit! And we hopped in my car and drove through Austria and Slovenia to get to Croatia for a couple of days. In May, as always, we had Spring Conference and the interns arrived, jumping in with the Amazing Race and Intern Training, which is always one of my highlights.

The interns arriving always marks the beginning of summer for me and this year work travels took me to visit or be at camps in Hungary, Poland, and Albania. And in between those travels I seemed to spend a lot of time learning about European VAT law, and celebrating two years of calling Czech home. Rest came in the form of a two-week break in Italy and that was oh so good for my soul.

In September we had our annual Fall Camp meeting and spent time debriefing the summer and planning the next year with those who lead our camp ministries. And as that ended we went into Fall Conference with over 300 people! Not to mention the excitement of the first ever JVUK board meeting. I also became a little more Czech that month.

October saw me start home assignment. During my two and a half months in the UK I was mostly in Northern Ireland, with some brief trips to Wales and England. It was such a privilege to be with so many friends, family members and supporters. I was also able to share in a few churches how God is moving in central and eastern Europe and invite people to be part of that.

And I marked the end of 2015, and the beginning of 2016, in Czech – in my beloved Český Těšín with midnight being celebrated by watching fireworks light up the skies over Czech and Poland.

2015 was a good year. As I look back I see so much evidence of God’s incredible, unchanging grace.

I am a goal setter and 2015 was no different. Some I definitely didn’t do much with beyond writing them on a Post-It note. But I do feel like I made significant strides in a few areas. I went into 2015 with my chronic back pain being worse than it had been in years and, gratefully, I ended the year in a better place – thanks to wonderful care in Czech, a chiropractor in Northern Ireland, and a lot of work in between.

The craziest goal I set in 2015 was to read 20 pages a day – although by February I’d realised that wasn’t stretching enough so I increased the goal to 30 pages. The rule was that I couldn’t read ahead (ie I couldn’t read 60 pages on a Tuesday and count 30 of those for Wednesday too) but I could catch up (if I didn’t read on Monday I could read 60 pages on Tuesday). As a result I read a staggering forty-one books in 2015!

I’m so glad I made that resolution. In that forty-one books there was the seven Chronicles of Narnia books, some work-related books, fiction, biographies, and others. I am not carrying this resolution into 2016 but it was definitely fun to do!

So I look back on 2015 with thanksgiving –

thankful for the people I met, and those that I continued journeying with,

thankful for how God has called me to serve Him in this place,

thankful for the travelling adventures and the coming home again,

thankful for the hours of Czech study and the little glimpses of progress,

thankful for time in the UK,

and, most of all, thankful for the God who is so faithful and whom I know better because of 2015.