Friday 24 November 2017

The best decision I made in 2016

When I was in Israel last year I learnt a lot and even eighteen months later, I find myself thinking about that trip. I've lifted my orange Israel notebook off my bookshelf multiple times to refresh my memory of key points. And I continue to unpack and process some of the things I heard there as I seek to live differently because of what God showed me. 

But it was also in Israel that I made one of the best decisions of 2016. I'm not entirely sure what day it happened or where I was but it was in that country that I decided to join a gym when I returned to Czech. 

Now, there are many good reasons to join a gym. Working out a few times a week is a great thing for your body, the endorphins feel amazing, it helps your body deal with stress. I've had chronic back pain for over ten years now and working out regularly definitely helps me manage the pain and even reduce it. 

In my little hometown it's also a good idea to join a gym because the air gets so bad in winter with the low temperatures and pollution. A few times every winter a smog situation is declared and the young, elderly, and sick are advised to simply stay inside. There are times I'll walk from my car to my flat and my scarf will smell like I've become a smoker because of the pollution in the air. So it is actually not a good idea to exercise outside in the winter; I'm rather convinced it would negatively impact your health.

All the reasons so far are good motivation to join the gym. But none of them were my main reason. I wanted to join a gym to get to know more people in my community because it's easy to spend my days at the office and my weekends fill up with church and youth group. I wanted to get to know and build relationships with more non-Christians.

I picked the gym in town that's for women only and checked it out for the free week. I've been going ever since - over eighteen months. And while I'm sure there are gyms with better philosophy behind them I am so grateful for this place and the women there!

One of the things that attracted me to this gym is that you can pause your membership for a tiny fee. This works perfectly with my travel schedule and I'm still on my first twelve months of actual membership because of all the breaks when I head to other countries. And when I return after a week or a month I'm warmly welcomed and asked where I've been and what I've been up to.

Each October we have a group hike day, so I just attended my second one. It is such a fun day - we hike to the top of the mountain I can see from my living room window, and have some soup at the top, before hiking down for our main lunch at a restaurant at the bottom. Along the way women stop to pick berries or mushrooms, and we all wait for those who are a little behind as we labour up the hill.

And there are many conversations that happen along the way. This year it was wonderful to get to chat to women who I've seen multiple times but never had the chance to talk to. None of the women speak English, and they are abundantly patient with my Czech ability. We chat about the weather, our families, the gym, and all those wonderful things that make up our daily lives.

It's never long before someone asks "Wait, you're a Northern Irish girl who lives in Český Těšín? Why would you live here?" and I get to explain why I live here, what I do, and how much I love calling this little border town home. 

I'm so very thankful that God led me to this decision last year, and that I can now be part of this community. I'm praying for continued opportunities to build relationships with these women and that I'll be faithful in always being ready to give a reason for the hope that I have.

Thursday 16 November 2017

Fall Conference 2017: Transform

In the last week of September 380 youth leaders from over fifteen nations gathered in a little town in the Czech Republic for Fall Conference. The theme this year was Transform, learning to teach like Jesus. 

We believe that we have the greatest story ever told - so it's worth the work to learn how to teach it well, to teach it so that it truly transforms lives. And it should always start by transforming us as we learn and prepare. The truth is, at best we are the teaching assistants and it's every disciple maker's, every teacher's, role to step into the shadow of Jesus as He teaches.

One of the beautiful things about the conference was the fact we sang in all the languages represented there during the week. You can see three languages on the powerpoint screen above. I can sing in Czech, Slovak, and Polish but even the ones I couldn't sing in were beautiful, and a little foretaste of heaven where people from every tongue and nation will worship God. 

Another favourite thing about the conference was the teaching - from the main sessions each evening, to the three different tracks that everyone was placed in based on how they normally teach, to the workshops. I loved being in the workshop all about asking questions as a teaching method, taught by DU from Romania.

There is a team that works to plan conference throughout the year and their leadership, diligence and care was on display in so many of the details. I am so thankful that I got to sit under such excellent teaching for the week! And I am crazy thankful to serve in an organisation so passionate about equipping us well. 

And then there are the people who come to this conference! With 380 of us it's impossible to talk to everyone, but there are many beautiful conversations that happen over meals, or coffee, or late at night during the week. 

This photo shows three of my favourite people of the week - I got to meet these three ladies during four years of doing camps with Dejvice church in Prague. Now they are all loving Jesus and living for Him - as a student, a teacher, and a full time missionary. They radiate Him and it is the greatest privilege to know them, be friends, and get to spend time together! 

Once again, I left this place, this conference centre, this hill, changed - closer to Jesus and more equipped to serve Him. 

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Fall Camp Meeting

On a Saturday in September thirty of my favourite people gathered and we're pictured above. These are the people who lead our camp ministry in each of their countries and it was such a joy to be together for a couple of days! 

As I was praying and thinking about this meeting over the summer I felt God gave me three words for our time together - celebration, collaboration, and clarity. So that's how we spent our time - celebrating all that God did through camps this summer, collaborating for the year ahead, and bringing some clarity to some areas. 

And there was much to celebrate - there is a lot of fruit that comes from our summer ministries, and some of that fruit is over five hundred young people who professed faith in Jesus! We went out for dinner together on Sunday night, after playing a game of ping pong assassin in the local shopping centre (we are youth ministry people, afterall!).

But when we weren't sneaking around a shopping centre, trying to successfully hit the person whose name we had on our ping pong, we were sitting around these tables. We spent a lot of time talking about the local churches we get to partner with as we do over one hundred and twenty camps - how can we best train them, and equip them to do camp well. We also talked about what worked last year and what we can do better next year, with camps and interns and short term teams. 

These are the people I work closest with and it was wonderful to spend a few blessed days together. I'm so grateful for this team and all that we were able to talk and dream about. I love that I get to serve alongside these people as we seek to partner with and equip local churches across central and eastern Europe to fulfil Christ's commission. 

It's exciting to think about the fruit that God will bring from the discussions and plans we started in this place!