I feel like leadership is talked about a lot. It’s a skill everyone wants and that everyone wants to judge in other people, especially public figures. In addition it seems like everyone has their own idea of what leadership looks like, of what it should be. The last decade of my life, stretching from adolescence into adulthood, I have been blessed to have myriad opportunities to learn about and be in a position of leadership. I have gained much experience and had many lessons on multiple continents. And here I sit and the best thing I’ve come up with to title this entry is “Leadership can be tricky.” (Eloquence has never been my strong suit…)
I’m writing this entry today because tomorrow I enter a position of leadership I have never had before. I am going to be the head coach of the cross-country program at a local high school. On one hand I am ridiculously excited to be doing this. I love running and sports in general and I am very competitive. I have the experience to do this job and to do it well. While I hope to be a teacher in coming years I want to pair that with coaching. This is my first step towards that goal and it’s a big one.
On the other hand this is totally new to me. I have never been this high up in anything. I have almost always been the follower. Obedient, smart, willing to take charge if needed, but never the actual go-to guy. I’m the decision maker now. I’m the one with the plan, the philosophy, the one responsible for how things go. I am the leader. It’s all slightly overwhelming if I let my overly analytical mind think about it too much.
At the end of the day I know that once I get the first practice out of the way things will start to fall into place. I’m grateful to have a job and I know this will be a great season. One helpful thought that has been floating in my head all week is that “Leadership is Servanthood.” My goal in leading is to serve. My runners, my assistants, everyone I meet this fall I want to help in whatever way I’m able. Leadership may be tricky but if I keep the right perspective I’m ready for the ride.
After my week at Sandy Cove Ministries I was able to drive down to the summer camp it runs in West Virginia. It’s a basic sleep away camp for kids but it is distinctive by its fun and its focus on Jesus. I have worked all or part of four previous summers there as a counselor and was returning this time to help out for two weeks. I ended up taking care of a cabin of boys each of the weeks I was there.
Returning was fantastic if also a bit weird. The last time I was on staff was in 2007. I knew camp well but many of the new staff had no idea who I was. Of course there was a good number of staff still there who I knew and that made meeting many of the others that much easier. I was happily surprised that by my first day off on Thursday I was having a blast with people I hadn’t known the week earlier.
Camp is a hard place to work. It is busy, tiresome and sweaty. There is lots of food but no air conditioning. You are responsible for your kids essentially all the time besides your day off. The schedule can quickly become burdensome. And yet I and many others keep coming back. Giving up camp completely just isn’t an option, at least not yet.
Even amidst all the difficulties I love camp. More than probably any other place, camp is a place where I can just relax and be myself; a slightly crazier, sillier version of myself to be sure, but me nonetheless. Kids are kids, they don’t judge you; they just want to have a good time and to feel loved. Working together with other staff in the same chaotic conditions garners a commitment to each other that I have experienced in few other places. Tying is all together is a collective belief and practice of Christianity which is simply refreshing. I have been to some great churches in my life but few things beat a Vespers service with 200+ hyperactive kids singing worship songs.
Camp has had an indelible impact on my life and development since I was kid. I’m so thank ful for being able to return and will surely return again.
This past weekend I found myself in Cheb. I’m in Cheb many weekends. There are four other teachers with my organization there who are all fun to hang out with and so it gives a nice change of pace when I am not teaching. Cheb is slightly larger than Sokolov and very close to the German border. This location allows it such things as a Tesco, an Alberts, and an Interspar. For those who don’t know these are all large supermarket/department stores with a Super Wal-mart feel. They wouldn’t be that exciting except they have significantly better selection than our two lowly supermarkets in Sokolov, Kaufland and Billa.
All that is to say going to Cheb is a fun time. My fellow teachers there often find out about mission teams that come through. When they can, they like to help out and meet the teams that come in. This past weekend a team from YWAM (Youth with a mission) in Germany visted Cheb. I can’t tell you exactly what all their plans were but what they wanted to do on Monday was hang out and play with poor Roma (aka gypsy) children in the town. Roma are discriminated against here in employment, education and pretty much anything else you can think of. Unsurprisingly, they often live in pretty sad looking blocks of flats in the “wrong” parts of town.
A fellow teacher and I decided to go meet up with the team, bring a GIANT inflatable ball for the kids, and to hang out for a while. So on Monday afternoon in a steady rain I found myself running around a trash-strewn courtyard playing soccer and hanging out with the YWAMers and Roma kids. The main highlight was a cute 6-or-7 year old kept jumping on me and smiling. So I put him on my shoulders. He laughed. I laughed. It was fun for a good three minutes. And then I tried to take him off. He had latched on to me with the grip of death to my jacket. So I proceeded to keep running around and everything until finally I managed to pry him off about fifteen minutes later. This kid was nothing but a pile of smiles and giggles.
I’m a teacher here. I want to teach, meet students. I have no idea how to “fix” the problem of poor Roma. But on some days its just nice to make a kid smile.
Being over here in the Czech Republic is all about living intentionally. That’s a pretty big word so I feel like I should give it a “working definition” so to speak. To me “living intentionally” means being aware of the people, things and situations around you and consciously trying to impact all those things in a positive way. Since I first left for South Africa in January 2008 I have been amazed at how powerful my words or actions can impact someone else for good or ill. Of course, Scripture (in James and other places) backs this up. Here in the Czech Republic living intentionally is all that much more important. Things aren’t just going to fall in my lap. I have to be focused. I have to care. I have to keep my eyes open.
This is not my natural state. I am an American and even worse I’m from the Northeast. Let me explain. We on the East Coast value independence. We work hard, don’t whine and we look out for ourselves alone pretty much. Plus I’m an introvert. I like people but only in the right situations. I would rather sit at home all night than go somewhere with a large group of people I don’t know. I often (consciously and not) value honesty over relationship.
I have a problem. Large parts of my culture and personality fly in the face of the religion and belief system that I claim to profess. Think about it.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it- Luke 9:24
Christianity flips my values on their head. It’s not about me, it’s about others. If I try to look out only for myself it’s hopeless. And of course this is perfectly exampled in the acts of Jesus: God himself, the Savior of the world, giving himself up to be publicly tortured, ridiculed and killed in a major city. And the crazy thing is this: In this ultimate act of unbridled, unrestrained love and intentionality, the entire World has been given hope and salvation.
Wow. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think I need to focus on living intentionally more.
I had a long weekend break from school this past week. I wanted to go somewhere and after discovering a cheap bus ticket to Budapest I was on my way. ESI has a number of teachers in Hungary and I was going to stay and meet up with some of them. While I did a fair amount of sight-seeing and this trip cannot not be construed as anything but a vacation I also got to see the body of Christ in action.
It’s neat to visit other teachers not only to see them but to see what their experience and ministry is like where they are. Every city and town with ESI teachers is different. This past Friday myself and another first-year teacher went to a YWAM (Youth with a Mission) supported coffeehouse in central Budapest. It is only open Fridays currently but its vision is to open full-time everyday. The goal of the coffeehouse as I understand it, is to be a place where Christians and non-Christians can come, hang out, enjoy a good cup of coffee and build relationships. ESI teachers in Budapest currently bring interested students here each week. It needs more funding but it looks like it finally has the leadership to push this idea all the way to its completion. When it opens it will start offering 9-month internships to American Christians who want to be a barista and serve people in Hungary.
I would be a terrible barista. Just not the thing for me. I have done a bit of retail and I did fine, but add food into the equation and it would end pretty fast for me. Despite my natural inability to help directly with this effort it was a pleasure to experience. The coffeehouse was bumping the night I was there. There weren’t enough seats for everyone. The cappuccino I had was excellent. I have a good feeling about this endeavor.
God has gifted us to do different things. He put me in Sokolov this year. He has put a bunch of Christians in Budapest. We are doing very different things. But experiencing the body of Christ in all its holy variety is truly a pleasure. And in fact, as I sat relaxing in that coffeehouse, soaking in the atmosphere, the idea nearly crossed my mind, in the small, subconscious part of my brain, and only for a split second: this might be something you might enjoying doing Matt. It was nice.
This is another entry about Cheb’s English club, the last entry was getting too long.
One of the great things about the whole evening was to have students you could actually talk to and have them understand you back. Their grammar and syntax might not be all there but you can have a conversation. It’s awesome. After the hoedown fun (see last entry) we settled down to listen to two students give their account of a trip to China they got to take last summer. They went as part of a Czech Physics team and competed in an international competition near Beijing. It was cool to hear about.
After the talk people were mingling and one of the presenters, George, asked me about colleges near Boston (I had introduced myself and said where I was from to the group earlier). Soon him, me and his girlfriend are all having a nice conversation. And then he asks the question. The one that I want to hear so much but dread at the same time.
So why did you decide to come to the Czech Republic?
Here it is. An opportunity to talk to a Czech student about things that matter. It’s amazing how you get to the purpose of being somewhere and then you almost freeze. I did marginally better than my flight in July but still only so-so. I talked about wanting to teach and how I’m interested in why so many Atheists are here but that was about it. They seemed politely interested but then we talked a bit more about other things.
In any case I am thankful for opportunities no matter how I might botch them up. A final note about getting to know students is that after the presentation two other students came up to me and asked if I knew “The Big Bang Theory”. I asked if they meant the theory or the show and they said the show which I really enjoy. They than informed me that I remind them of the character Howard which, if you have ever seen the show, is a hard compliment to take. All I have to say to it is:
Last night my flatmate, Derick and I had the opportunity to help out with the English Club at Cheb that a few ESI teachers were having. This is a common ministry here that allows us to meet and hang out with students outside of school, speak English and have a fun time. They were expecting close to 30+ people so they asked me and Derick to come to help as native speakers of English.
It ended up being around 20 but still a really big group and it was a lot of fun. We had tons of cookies, crackers, drinks and other snacks to chow down on and I got to meet a bunch of students who speak English stunningly well. Being able to carry on a conversation with a person here is a precious thing that I do not take for granted.
So a funny historical quirk of our area is that during Communist times, even though the Czech Republic is 94% ethnically Czech, they invited people from Vietnam, a fellow Communist nation, to come and live and work in the country. So now there is a small but noticeable minority of Vietnamese in town and in our school. Many of the students who came last night were Vietnamese.
I don’t know how it started but everyone started trying to teach the group various dances at the beginning of the evening. We got started with some country “Cotton-Eye Joe” stuff, took a detour to waltzing and Czech dancing, and eventually settled down to learn “Hoedown Throwdown” straight from Hannah Montana. So I got to watch a bunch of Czech students learn this dance and do this last night as it was being taught by a Vietnamese student.
All I have to say to this is God has a sense of humor that makes me look like an old stiff.