Yes, there’s a need

Note: With my current internet connection my blog website has not been formatting correctly. I have resorted to writing blog entries on my computer until I am able to post them. Sorry for the delays. I will now post them in a semi staggered fashion before catching up with an entry that will focus on my arrival in Czech. Note I leave this Thursday, the 20th for Europe.

Written July 26th.

Training has started and it has been busy and tiring. I have generally been waking up at 7AM and doing stuff until around 10 at night. It has been great though to meet all the new teachers and many of the returners. It has been an intense time. One theme here is to “lower our expectations.” This means that when we go over we are not to expect much in terms of ease or excitement so that we will be happier if things go well but content even if/when they don’t.

About a week ago we had a session on the realities of the Czech Republic. It was a very bleak picture. Some facts: Over half of Czechs declares themselves to be atheist, one of the highest rates in the world. In the region I will be living in, Western Bohemia, the rate is even higher. Sex is prevalent in the culture in ways that would make most Americans flinch. It is not unusual or frowned upon for 16-year old students to date 30-year olds. While condoms are used, when they fail abortion is common. What Americans would consider pornography is standard fair in advertisements in major newspapers. Prostitution (mostly from non-Czechs stuck in the country) is a major problem as well.

These facts are daunting and I take them seriously. I don’t pretend to be a savior that will swoop in and “fix” everyone upon arrival. That’s God’s job. But I do feel an even stronger calling to this part of the world. My very personality, I feel, will allow me to thrive even in this spiritually dark place. This is a hard task. But God has given it to me and so I can say nothing more than I feel profoundly blessed to be able to do this. I hope you join me in praying for the next year, the Czech People, and my time abroad. Needless to say, I’m excited.

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Rocking it with some Folk Art

Note: I hope to add a couple pictures of the market to this entry and many pictures on facebook by next week, stay tuned.

My first weekend in Santa Fe has been awesome. The ultimate highlight was helping run a booth at the International Folk Art Market. This is the premier folk art market in the world with artisans from 45 different countries. My aunt’s mother is an importer and seller of Latin American art and she sponsors a booth every year at the market. This year she brought a Mexican artisan from Oaxaca named Victor Vasquez. He brought roughly 200 pieces of hand-carved, brightly-painted animals and other figurines to sell. 90% of the money he makes will go back to his family and community as many of the pieces were done by artists in villages near him.

The market ran only two days, Saturday and Sunday, but my job was to help wherever I was needed. I got there at 9AM Friday morning and started unpacking the merchandise. The next day my aunt and I arrived at 3PM and 88% of the animals were gone. It was incredible. We had to restock with more stuff from my aunt’s mom’s store for the next day. I took on the role of help wherever I was needed. I got people lemonade, I moved things that needed moving, I watched the booth and I helped with paperwork. Surprisingly the role that I became known for was brownie baker. My aunt made the lunches each day for everyone in our booth and I contributed by baking the brownies for the dessert. Everyone loved them. Now I’ve never been a great cook, and the brownies are the high-altitude version of a mix from a box so I’m not sure how it happened but brownies were requested all weekend.

It was fantastic to walk around and see the art, the artisans, and people from all around the world. It was also great to actually help out and make the event happen. My role was ultimately small but great things will come from it. Kinda similar to what God asks for us daily, I think. Do the small things right every time and God will use it for his glory in huge ways. It was a great weekend.

Already in Training

I made it to New Mexico safely last night. Thanks for praying everyone.

I had to take 3 flights and the second one was delayed to the point that I was postive I was going to miss my connection to Albuquerque. When we landed though I learned my flight was waiting for me and some other connections. So I got off the plane and ran through the terminal. I made it. The trade-off was when I got on the plane I was sweating profusely. I make my way to my seat and as I try to compose myself and relax I overhear the lady next to me talking to the other guy in our row. To my astonishment I hear that this lady has run 50 marathons in all 50 states and upwards of 70 total. I’m a runner but that just made me say good lord. Now generally I am loathe to start small talk on planes. I’m not very social with random people and assume they would just as much not talk. But I had to say something. I tell her I ran my frst two marathons ever this year and we start having a very nice conversation about running and marathons. And then she asks the dreaded question.

“So what do you do for a living?”

I almost always balk, hestitate, shy away from this question. Mostly because frankly, it’s complicated. Do I say missionary? teacher? guy who travels places and believes in Jesus? former esteemed mini-mart clerk? It’s just not very normal and takes a lot of effort and so I dislike it. But this seemed like a pretty nice lady and I’m not prne to lying so I revealed I was going to Czech Republic to teach for a year. Soon it came out I had been in South Africa doing missions work. I explained why I chose the Czech Republic (their are a lot of atheists there). She seemed more interested in what sight-seeing I had done in Africa, however, and soon we were back to  discussing running.

I realized almost as soon as I was done talking with her that even though I still have over a week till training starts, this was my first practice. I NEVER talk to people on planes and yet here I was with the opportunity to lay out who I was and what I believed to this lady. I didn’t ace it. I wasn’t very enthusiastic or clear and I was actually the one who ended up changing the subject. But it was still important. The Bible says we should always have an answer for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). People are going to ask here and in the Czech what I am doing. I can cop out and say I’m teaching or just exploring Europe or I can say what is in fact true. I’m going overseas to build relationships with young people who have no awareness of the supernatural world and share the love of Christ with them.

Without a doubt. I’m already in training.

Overall…Pretty Blessed

This past longish holiday weekend provoked a lot of feelings for me both positive and negative. Let’s see if I can explain it.

A few weeks go via Facebook I discovered my good intern friend from South Africa (who is currently at home) was traveling to visit two of my fellow interns in Maryland for a week starting July 2nd. My first thought was it would be awesome to hang out with them. My second impulse was July 2nd was way too close to me leaving on July 8th and I’m way too cheap to travel to Maryland for only a day or two. After a few days I decided just on a whim to see what a flight to Maryland might cost on Expedia. I was rather surprised to see they were at a range I could handle. I soon hatched a plan to show up at airport right before her and surprise all 3. I would stay one night and most of two days. Very, very unlike me.

While I ended up caving and telling my one intern that I was coming, the others were quite confused by my texts the morning of July 2nd. What was I doing in Baltimore they wondered? It was lots of fun to see them and as an awesome bonus we all got to hang out for an afternoon with one of the co-founders of Thrive as well. I count the four of them as amazing, awesome women of God and close friends. It was truly a blessing to see them.

But now I sit here at the end of the 4th of July weekend just a bit depressed. I think it can be explained by one major thing. I have never been very popular or had a wide social circle but I have been blessed to gain many close, dear friends over time. The only issue is they are generally far away from me and I only see them in small chunks of time now. Part of it is my fault, I went to South Africa last year and now I’m going to the Czech Republic for another. But the main consequence of this is I don’t really feel at home anywhere. Granted I have loved being with my family the past few months but after seeing an old group of friends (whether it be my thrive, camp or college friends) it has always been hard the day after leaving them recently. I realize I don’t want to see these people two days, or one night. I want to see them everyday, hang out, talk, live life together with them.

And now here I sit about to start the whole process over again. And, as paradoxical as it sounds, I  can’t wait. Another year (maybe more) to meet new people, make new friends, start new relationships and soak in all God has for me. I could be down about a lot of things but I think it is better to say that overall…I’m pretty blessed.